Berkshire Review

Best Concert of the Year?

Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO

Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.

A Crop Of Recordings VII: Music of Walton, Zemlinsky, Goldmark and Ibert

Jacques Ibert.

It has taken time for Sir William Walton’s Second Symphony to find a secure place in the repertory. But I think this new CD from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony fully confirms its place in the canon and right to be there. Walton is the sort of artist, like Oscar Wilde, who interests sociologists, because he hides depth in the shallows.

The Bard Music Festival and SummerScape Opera 2016: Puccini and his World, with Pietro Mascagni’s Iris

Giacomo Puccini. © Frank C. Bangs, Library of Congress.

The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer’s most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt’s output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.

François-Xavier Roth with the BSO in January, with solo turns from Elizabeth Rowe (flute), Jessica Zhou (harp), and Renée Fleming (soprano)

Conductor François-Xavier Roth. Photo Marco Borggreve.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra started the new year well with two programs under the direction of guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, who hails now from Cologne and is very active in Europe, much sought after. Conducting without baton, vigorous and engaged, Roth holds the players’ attention and gets what he wants. Orchestra and audience alike feel caught up in an unusually tense and purposeful address to the music at hand.

True Romance on Screen: Todd Haynes’ Carol…with a Sideglance at the Latest from Spielberg & Hanks

Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Believe in Todd Haynes' Carol

True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara).  Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.

Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts until March 13, 2016

Rodin in his studio

Auguste Rodin is one of those institutional artists, whose last name has become synonymous with a distinctive​ kind of art, much the same as Donatello or Rembrandt, but Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, is as remarkable as it is unexpected. While it covers the salient points in Rodin’s oeuvre, the focus here is neither marble nor bronze, but rather the humbler medium of plaster. The underlying thesis is that Rodin was more of a modeler than a carver, a practice reflecting the nature of the art market in his day as well as the sculptor’s natural inclination. Created jointly by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal, the exhibition showcases two hundred works that emphasize Rodin’s pivotal place in the grand tradition of sculpture, between the worlds of Michelangelo and of Brancusi.

Vermeer’s Astronomer at the MFA

Johannes Vermeer (Delft 1632–1675), The Astronomer (1668), Oil on canvas, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The distinguished senior curator of European paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Ronni Baer, has put together a compelling and instructive exhibition of 17th-century Dutch art (mostly oil painting) that focusses on complex layers of social class (Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, through January 18; which then reopens on February 20 for three months at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO). There isn’t a painting in the show without interest, including a heaping handful of out-and-out masterpieces: early Rembrandt, Hals (in both intimate and heroic—or mock heroic—mode), Ruysdael (those bleaching fields near Haarlem under an enormous cloud-filled sky), de Hooch (that radiant courtyard; that dim geometrical interior), Ter Borch (those glittering satins; that velvety cow suspiciously eyeing a nearby axe), a Van Dyck, and a crisp, penetrating Thomas de Keyser portrait of the Dutch statesman, poet, and musician Constantijn Huygens, father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered the rings of Saturn—a big discovery for me.

The Year that Was: Boston Classical Music in 2015

Andris Nelsons

The major news from Boston was the ascendancy of Andris Nelsons, firming up his place as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which included a quickly agreed upon three-year extension of his contract into the 2020-2021 season. This announcement was soon followed by the less happy surprise for Bostonians of Nelsons also accepting an offer from the eminent Leipzig Gewandhaus, the orchestra whose music director was once no less than Felix Mendelssohn, to take on that very position, beginning in the 2017-2018 season, thus dividing the loyalties of the young maestro (who just turned 37), though evidently with the possibility of collaborations between the two orchestras. (Remember when some people were complaining about James Levine dividing his time between the BSO and the Metropolitan Opera?)

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