Thursday evening’s BSO performance found it hard to separate artist from opus: Marcelo Lehninger’s performance with the orchestra marked the 31-year-old conductor’s premiere as assistant conductor of the ensemble. Not a daring program, the performance somehow begged a divination of the young maestro’s future career than a complete synthesis of the evening’s works.
Mahler’s second symphony, the “Resurrection,” holds its place among a handful of symphonic works that will necessarily end in a standing ovation. This is no mystery: Mahler’s symphony is the logical extension of Beethoven’s gargantuan Ninth, the<i> “</i>Ode to Joy,” in scope, Mahler’s second symphony more than doubles the number of performers in Beethoven’s work in both orchestra and choir; Mahler’s work extends the choral sections across two independent movements and the use of orchestral recitative far beyond Beethoven’s work. In content, while Beethoven text is an exhortation to brotherhood and peace, Mahler’s text is somehow more personal, more aligned with modern aesthetics — a call for personal growth and achievement, a prayer for personal actualization, a spiritual resurrection.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new conductor-less resident orchestra, A Far Cry, presented a thoughtful synthesis of works spanning five hundred years ofWestern music in their program entitled Primordial Darkness during the museum’s Sunday afternoon concert series on September 19th.
As best as these things can happen, he was the Cincinnatus of our musical world. Born November 5, 1940, in Tackley of Oxfordshire, England, Anthony Rolfe Johnson came relatively late to music, spending the majority of his twenties as a farmer, beginning his formal training at nearly thirty years of age at the Guildhall School of Music in London. Initially unable to even read music, Mr. Johnson eventually learned, continuing on to study with Benjamin Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, and making his operatic debut in 1973.
They’re clearly the most fun to make fun of in middle school and high school. Among a sea of athletes and garage bands, the pianists, percussionists, the trumpeteers, the clarinetists, and even violinists are social outcasts in the grand scheme of ridiculous adolescent social circles. But in the musical hierarchy, they’re somehow top dog. They’re cool; they sit at the back of the bus during band tours. Somehow they exude confidence, knowing they command the respect of the small circle of art aficionados, of the small enclave adults and peers that cultivate this sort of erudition.
For as beautifully and thoughtfully as Saturday evening’s performance was conceived, programmed and performed, the third concert of Musica Sacra’s 50th anniversary season also managed to present significant challenges to both audience and performer. In a program entitled <i>The Spirit is Still Speaking: Sacred Choral Music of the Modern Era</i>, Musica Sacra performed five works; wo were world premieres, and all were written within the last forty years.
Given the short shrift faced by choral music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it’s surprising that Dominick Argento has attained the status he has. Argento’s creative output includes a vast array of operas, choral works and song cycles (one of which, <i>From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, </i>earned him the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2004), yet a surprisingly small output of orchestral works: a relatively small number of symphonies and concerti, and practically no chamber works.
Of the languages that are most frequently performed in the Western canon (Latin, Italian, French, German and sometimes Russian and Spanish), French is most often eschewed, most usually because of the difficulty in its diction. At least in English speaking countries, it seems there are as many schools of pronunciation as there are people willing to subscribe to them. And this is in modern French; how many different ways to pronounce Medieval French? franco-Latin? Least of all to mention the difficulties of twentieth-century French music which, after the daring harmonic advancements of Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc, became some unholy amalgam of jazz imbued with traditional choral forms.
The string section is a staple of any orchestra: The largest of the instrumental sections, the strings are the most prominently displayed. Strings are usually the most constant factor in any orchestral score, while woodwinds, brass, percussion are the variables. Perhaps it is ironic that the fate of the string section is to play some of the least sonically interesting parts. Strings are often consigned to betraying their vast range of timbre and tone color to complement and support more strident colors of other sections of the orchestra.
Re-Learning the New. The Emerson String Quartet Performs works by Ives, Janáček, Barber and Shostakovich
Twentieth century music is generally associated with atonality and avant-garde experimentation; this is not necessarily an untrue association, and many of Friday evening’s composers are specially known for their forays into these movements. The music is not without its own narrative, its own tonal lexicon and rationale that somehow culminates in a cohesive thesis. All of Friday evening’s music was older than fifty years old, and it was striking to hear how much of this music has been adapted in to the collective idiom in the twenty-first century.
Of the fifteen books of Ovid’s <i>Metamorphoses</i>, the story of Acis and Galatea occupies less than two hundred lines of a single book: the mortal Acis and the nymph Galatea are in love, but the cyclops Polyphemus (yes, that Polyphemus, the one from the <i>Odyssey</i>; he, like most everything else, also has a back-story) is in love with Galatea too. As these things go, Galatea rebukes him and Polyphemus, understandably upset, expresses his rage in the only way he knows how: he crushes Acis with a boulder. Ovid completes the metamorphic tale on a light note, where Galatea, in her grief, immortalizes her lover by turning him into a river. The story, the plot all imitate dozens of others in the work, enough so that it seems like this one was another in a series of filler material Ovid had prepared to pad his tome.
Far more than being in love, falling out of love seems to be a popular topic of music. Various iterations of the break-up song have been written for nearly two thousand years and set to music for a far shorter time, never more cleverly and expressively than the Italian masters nearly five hundred years ago. The MIT Chamber Chorus provided a glimpse into the panoply of techniques and expositions of these musicians.
I’m biased, of course: Despite being part of the Western canon, the music of the Renaissance somehow remains consistently foreign. It’s all there, the underpinnings that still guide sophisticated music even today — ideas on meter, or rhythm, rules guiding the structure of melodic lines, conceptions of how voices should interact with one another all exist in this fifteenth-century world, but somehow, to hear it is mysterious. Whereas concepts of thematic development, tonal resolution or structure seem to be at the center of the majority of works of the Western canon, the engine at the center of music from the Renaissance is somehow more elusive.
Boston choral ensemble Cantata Singers is preparing for its 2009–2010 season featuring works by Heinrich Schuetz, J.S. Bach, Hugo Distler and Arnold Schoenberg opening on Friday, November 6 at Jordan Hall. <i>The Tech</i> interviewed conductor David Hoose about the upcoming program and season. More information about this performance and the Cantata Singers Ensemble can be found at <i>http://cantatasingers.org/</i>
The Boston Choral Ensemble prepares for its 2009–2010 season featuring Thomas Jennefelt’s <i>Villarosa Sequences</i> on Friday, November 20 at First Church in Cambridge and Sunday, November 22 at Old South Church in Boston. <i>The Tech</i> interviewed conductor Miguel Felipe about the upcoming program. More information about this performance and the Boston Choral Ensemble can be found at <i>http://www.bostonchoral.org/</i>
For all of its expert craft, there are many non-trivial reasons Gioachino Rossini’s <i>Tancredi</i> isn’t one of his more popular operas. Large rifts gape in the plot line (Since when is Amenaide pregnant? Why doesn’t Argirio recognize the renown Tancredi when he joins his army? Why does Amenaide write a letter that is unaddressed and almost purposefully misleading?), while the drama portrays an affected and protracted moral code that holds very little in common with modern experience.
A point of clarification: the practice of castrating pre-pubescent boys that showed promise in singing started in the sixteenth century somewhere in Italy. In the absence of the testosterone-secreting gland, limbs elongated, ribs kept growing (resulting in extraordinarily large lung capacity) and, perhaps most importantly, the larynx failed to develop: the adult male (<i>castrato</i> in Italian) retained his pre-pubescent range and flexibility. Subsequent training developed the pre-pubescent voice into a mature, fully-developed, yet eerily pristine, alto or soprano voice part.
My piano teacher used to cringe at the mention of Vladimir Horowitz. The Russian pianist was known for his particularly bad posture: sitting with the keyboard chest-level, Horowitz’s fingers would lie flat on the keys, tips almost pointed upwards as he played. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine another twentieth-century pianist who had such influence on the piano literature and the face of piano performance. Despite his questionable stance at the piano, Horowitz managed startling technical prowess at the keyboard, often performing musical acrobatics that were inaccessible to his contemporaries, premiering works both composers and performers thought impossible and forever changing what was considered par for his medium.
At any other time during the miserable history of British music, Gerald Finzi would have been considered one of England’s greatest composers. Just his luck, he was born just as Ralph Vaughan Williams was realizing his full potential and died just in time for Benjamin Britten to be achieving his.
One could learn a lot performing with the <i>Oriana Consort</i>. Certainly, one could learn a lot attending one of their concerts. Conductor Walter Chapin’s copious program notes exuded the author’s obvious excitement for both music and ensemble, and his interest was well transmitted — reading Chapin’s notes provided the distinct impression of attending a music history course; an engrossing excursion through the past with bits of history being performed.
Maybe it’s glib to say, but I have a hypothesis that the volume knob has led to the destruction of classical music. The fast-forward and the rewind button too, but the volume knob more than anything else: Music can be painfully loud or imperceptibly soft, but modulating volumes for the sake of homogeneity of the listenable somehow disrupts the ultimate message. Extremity in music makes a very important point, even if it’s uncomfortable to listen to.
Sometimes I wish I could write prose like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote music. Maybe that’s a difficult lesson to learn in itself: Mozart’s music isn’t boring; it’s elegant. It’s the sheer simplicity that can be maddening, and Mozart isn’t an exception — the harmonic ease and clarity of melodic lines in Mozart’s music often seem bland or generic, and that, in itself, seems to be the sticking point: it’s not everyone who can write music so cleanly. After one listens to the music repeatedly, it somehow loses its blandness and realizes its — well — elegance.
There’s no getting around Tomás Luis de Victoria’s setting of <i>O magnum mysterium</i> text for me, if it isn’t for Francis Poulenc’s setting of the same text. But maybe that’s an asset when it comes to listening to Harbison.
Elisabeth Hon Hunt G performed a recital of works largely from the early twentieth century <i>fin de siècle</i> as part of MIT’s Emerson Fellowship Recital Series on March 13, 2009. Her performance was virtuosic in both technique and musical understanding. The recital began with a piano reduction of Richard Strauss’s <i>Grossmächtige Prinzessin...Noch glaub’ ich dem einen ganz mich gehörend</i> (Pei-Shan Lee, piano), a thrilling dramatic aria from <i>Ariadne auf Naxos</i>. Although a bit tentative at first, Hunt’s performance warmed into nothing less than the acrobatic bravura music offers, gracefully careening through Strauss’s hair-raising feats with sparkling tone and devastating ease.
Harvard-Radcliffe <i>Collegium Musicum</i>, under the leadership of Jameson Marvin in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, provided an extremely challenging program at Friday night’s concert, rightly entitled “A Concert of Reverence & Reflection.” The evening’s performance began with Frank Martin’s <i>Messe für zwei vierstimmige Chöre</i>, and concluded with two newer works after the intermission: Michael Schachter’s (‘09) <i>Oseh Shalom Bimromav</i> and Paul Moravec’s (‘80) <i>Songs of Love and War</i>.
Who <i>hasn’t</i> played Murray Perahia’s March 28th program? Or at least tried; all of the works performed by Murray Perahia on Sunday afternoon’s Celebrity Series concert are somewhere gathering dust on my piano, multiple recordings litter my CD collection. It’s music that we’ve studied to understand what Western music is, music we’ve scrutinized to hear what Western music is supposed to sound like, and perhaps that’s what was so fundamentally difficult about Sunday’s performance. What can there possibly be to say about music that’s been spoken about for so long?
Time seems to get distorted in musical history. Somehow, the past two hundred years of music are still very much with us in many different ways. At the very basic, instrumental level, Mozart’s piano is different from the one we play today, Haydn’s horn is much more curmudgeonly and Bach took on the challenge of writing six suites for the curious new cello. But Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and even Beethoven were writing during the very beginning of the industrial revolution, at the very inception of a period of novel metallurgy and mass-produced instruments. And all of this changed the way instruments were made. The standards provided by the technologies of the industrial revolution made it possible to write for a body of instruments that extends almost through today.
Collage New Music, performing in Longy School of Music’s Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall this past Monday, articulated contemporary voices in music with a unique and refreshing ability. This isn’t a complaint about contemporary music performances: it’s not difficult to see that most contemporary music is performed by competent musicians and that it takes a very talented musician to play contemporary music in the first place.
Johannes Ockeghem was writing in the fifteenth century, a time whose musical traditions may already have been lost to the ages. Ockeghem’s music, still a matter of active research and lively debate in terms of its performance and practice, was written in a time that preferred vacuous perfect intervals to plump triads at the close of cadences, when tritones were still considered <i>diabuli in musica</i>, when audiences were still intimately familiar with the melodies of Gregorian chant and plainsong.
Who would’ve ever thought George Crabbe? In fact: who’d ever heard of George Crabbe?
Hearing the all-star cast of the Tashi quartet (Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, and Richard Stoltzman) record Messiaen’s quartet in 1976 feels much like looking at pictures of your parents before they had any children. Each of these musicians has gone on to an illustrious musical careers of his own, and this particular recording was made before much of their serious careers as musicians. Although younger at the time of this recording, the quartet realizes Messiaen’s work with a mature exuberance and an intense attention to motive and detail that vaulted Messiaen’s music to the fame it currently enjoys: the vast litany of recordings of the work all seem to begin with this one in mind. Though this is an older recording, there is still no surprise that it was recommended by Alex Ross in his recent work, “The Rest is Noise”.
Part of the joy of listening to contemporary music is to have the composer as reference and concordance for the works. For those trying to discover a suitable niche for Ezra Sims work on Friday evening’s Boston Musica Viva Concert, Mr. Sims delivered such a discussion on his piece <i>Four Landscapes</i> (2008). Speaking at Boston University’s Tsai Center for the Performing Arts, where the concert was held, he described <i>Landscapes</i> as a microtonal piece utilizing twelve-tone principles. As crucial as this exegesis was, what was particularly informative were Mr. Sim’s thoughts on how these pieces fit within his entire opus. Comparing himself to Chopin, he observed that this work was his “so-called Preludes.”
Sometimes I worry that my particular brand of love for Jane toes a fine, but distinct, line between nuisance and comedic relief. She puts up with a whole lot: I constantly talk to her during lecture, disturb her while she’s in the middle of her experiments, push my fiber pills on her like I were a dealer, tell her dirty jokes (loudly) when we’re in public and insist on detailing the most horrific details of my ever-faltering love life.
As with many things, this too started with Beethoven. It must have been a draining performance for both musicians and audience: the first three movements of the Missa Solemnis (Op. 123) and 9th Symphony (Op. 125) premiered all in one night on May 7th, 1824. These have both become monumental works that have revolutionized their genres. The Ninth Symphony is the more famous of the two because it was the first (or, at the very least, the most major) symphony to incorporate both choral and orchestral music into a symphony.
From all accounts, Gustav Mahler was a formidable grouch. It’s not hard to hear this in his music — his ninth symphony is nearly an hour and a half’s worth of rich, Wagnerian lines, rife with paranoid navel-gazing over his imminent death. His orchestral song-cycle, Das Lied von der Erde is a meditation on eastern philosophy and a hidden symphony meant to cheat fate (Beethoven had nine symphonies, so did Dvorak, Schubert1, Mahler knew where this was headed).
When did classical music become boring? It’s not hard to understand why it is: music is taught at schools on a pedestal lower than, yet not distinct from calculus, English literature or honors French. It’s been mummified beyond recognition — at some point, students are asked not to listen to music, but to <i>understand</i> the music — in fact, there are musical rules, drills and practices that students must complete with stoic integrity, an entire body of history to digest and, if you can imagine — <i>exams</i>, even.
Things must have seemed bleak to the thirty-five year old Johann Sebastian Bach in the spring of 1721. He had composed six pieces, delivered for a commission to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, each one an exposition of the new and old instruments that were available to the young composer, each one a re-thinking of the concerto form — still relatively young in the early eighteenth century and certainly still very Italian in its conception and tradition. In short, each of these orchestral pieces were a thoughtful exposition of the musical world that Bach inhabited.