Music

Boston and Berlin at Carnegie in 2015

Carnegie Hall, 1906

The fall 2015 orchestral season at Carnegie Hall was dominated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s traditional three-concert visit, this time in October, and a five-concert traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic under their outgoing principle conductor/artistic director, Simon Rattle. Both had their joys and peculiarities, but only Berlin confronted us with any actual disappointments.

Marek Janowski Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” Preludes and the Beethoven Fourth and Eighth Symphonies

Marek Janowski. Photo © CAMI.

Marek Janowski always brings a convincing German something to our orchestra. Polish born, Janowski was raised in Germany and reigns at the Berlin Radio Symphony–indeed is known throughout Europe for his Wagner, Bruckner, Schumann and Beethoven. He’s even managed to elicit convincing Bruckner from the Suisse Romande in Geneva–that alone surely worth some nation’s Legion of Honor–and every so often does the rounds instructively with us. This time Pfitzner was the centerpiece.

Hagoromo – a Dance/Opera Premiered at BAM, November 3, 2015

Wendy Whelan as the tennis and Jack Soto as Hakuryo the Fisherman in Hagoromo. Photo Mark Stephen Kornbluth.

BAM’s New Wave Festival, from the effervescent anticipation in the lobby to the usually outstanding, rarely boring activities on its stages, must surely be one of the most upbeat environments one can find in New York. One event among those I attended stood out, because of the particular excitement of the capacity audience: the world premiere of Hagoromo, a  multi-media work combining dance, puppetry, singing, and instrumental performance—all so artfully combined that the rest of the theatrical ensemble, sets, lighting, and costume, sprang into life in a rare way. The performance made itself felt in the audience before it even began. It was a diverse crowd, a bit different from what one routinely observes at BAM, certainly better dressed than usual. It seemed that this performance exerted an equally powerful attraction on fans of dance, contemporary music, and even fashion, lured by the costumes of the designer, Dries van Noten.

A Crop of Recordings II: Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Schmitt, Magnard, and Beethoven

Conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883 Vevey - 1969 Geneva)

About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.

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?)

Yefim Bronfman plays Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas at Carnegie Hall: Program I

Prokofiev

Yefim Bronfman is one of the names that comes up when a pianist asks “What are the highly regarded recordings of Prokofiev’s piano works?” Embarrassingly, I had not visited those recordings, but was lucky enough to witness his performance of the composer’s piano sonatas at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on November 13. This program included the first half of Prokofiev’s contribution to the form, with the other half to be performed at Carnegie on separate occasions next year.

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob Silverstein

Great musical communities are very like a ladder, the humblest freshman at conservatory, right up to the geniuses at the top. Music students have a natural capacity to worship great artists. First, there is a sense of wonder that a human being can do something so beautiful with a piece of wood or a small muscle in the throat. Then they become familiars—a lesson every week, maybe eventually a first-name basis, maybe not. Then the blessed few climb, some all the way to the top. When I was in school in Boston, the rare ones at the top included the genius Seiji Ozawa, the other genius Gunther Schuller, and the late lamented concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein.

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