Music

Sir Simon Rattle’s Farewell Tour with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: Two Concerts in Davies Hall, San Francisco

Sir Simon Rattle

It was a tease this time—opening with minimalist Boulez. But it was worth it.

Anyone growing up past mid-century recalls an era when whole portions of the German symphonic experience were seeming property of the Berlin Philharmonic and its legendary conductor, Herbert von Karajan. Put a Berlin Philharmonic LP of Brahms, Strauss, Beethoven or Bruckner on the turntable, and the golden DGG logo virtually guaranteed this orchestra would sound richer, probe more deeply than any other and elicit sheer heft without parallel. No string or brass section would glow as beautifully or emit more power. If that didn’t convey authority, as it surely did to anyone with good ears, Karajan’s mesmeric space-commander hair, ascetic tunic and “visionary closed eyes” (interesting notion, that) encouraged along the way our notion of insights to be found within—most of them worthy and real.

A Generous Collection of Works by Marie Jaëll from the Centre de Musique Romantique Française (Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice)/Ediciones Singulares

Marie Jaëlle (1846-1925)

Lovers of nineteenth-century music will want to know about the remarkable work of the Centre de Musique Romantique Française. The Center, founded in 2009, is run primarily by scholars from France but is located in Venice, at the Palazetto Bru Zane. It engages in research—and provides financial support—for concerts, opera performances, print publications, and numerous recordings. Many of these recordings are multiple-CD sets that come with a small hardbound book containing—in French and English—informative essays and sung texts and translations. The Center organizes these CD/book combinations into three categories: “French Opera” (11 releases so far), “[Composer] Portraits” (3 releases), and “Prix de Rome” (6 releases—compositions written by student composers at the Paris Conservatoire, such as the young Debussy). All the CD/books are produced and published by the Center itself, but Amazon.com and other record distributors tend to refer to them, instead, by the name of the firm that manufactures the book: Ediciones Singulares (El Escorial, Spain).

Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic: A musical experience of a lifetime

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic at Symphony Hall. Photo Robert Torres.

After the stunning concert with Simon Rattle leading the Berliner Philharmoniker at Boston’s Symphony Hall—Pierre Boulez’s scintillating Éclat followed (without intermission) by Mahler’s black sheep Symphony No. 7—I couldn’t stop shaking. There’s a lot of good music in Boston, but this was different—on a whole other level. And the audience knew it, felt it. Wasn’t it just what we needed to hear after the bruising election? People were not only cheering but weeping and hugging each other.

Bravo to Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz for their admirable New York International Piano Competition

Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz with the 2016 finalists of the New York International Piano Competition

Almost any seasoned music lover will at some time complain about the globally-renowned musicians who play at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, or Tanglewood. You’ll hear that the players in this orchestra or that are cynical and bored, that a particular violinist over the years has developed into a parody of herself, or that a certain pianist is going through a dry period and that the life has gone out of his playing. The most efficacious antidote for that malaise is to seek out young musicians who are still enthusiastic and still believe that they have to do their best all the time. We are all thrilled by the brilliant young musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center.

Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Andris Nelsons, Renée Fleming, Franz Hawlata, Susan Graham. Photo Winslow Townson.

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

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