Contemporary Music

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).



Mostly Mozart, Hold the Mozart: the International Contemporary Ensemble and Ellie Dehn perform Fujikura, Zorn, Lucier, and Messiaen at the Park Avenue Armory

A "chamber" for Alvin Lucier

ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) has become a fixture at what might once have been considered and unlikely event, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. In recent years it has devloped into a more eclectic sort of festival, grounded in the music of Mozart as always, but including baroque and classical music played on period instruments as well as contemporary music. Within a few weeks Mostly Mozart provides a condensation of our musical interests today. It is especially welcome to get some taste of the rich contemporary music life in the City, when it inevitably thins out for the summer, as composers, many of whom teach for a living, go off to the country or an arts center to compose, perhaps with a visit to the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood or some other opportunity to congregate with colleagues and hear each other’s work.



Hotel Elefant: Light and Dark, at Roulette, September 23, 2013

Hotel Elefant play Leaha Maria Villareral's Dark Matter

The so-called “major” institutions in New York have not been entirely oblivious to the music that is being written now, for example Alan Gilbert’s New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center, although they seem to be flagging somewhat in the past season or two. It was demoralizing to see the superb Tully Scope Festival, which did an admirable job of surveying and balancing the most important trends in music as it is practised today, from Les Arts Florissants to Tyondai Braxton, vanish after one season. It has fallen to smaller, younger organizations to make the music of our own time and place heard. ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), now ten years old, is perhaps the most visible of these, and it is to the credit of both Lincoln Center and the young virtuosi of ICE that they maintain a presence a various Lincoln Center series, like Mostly Mozart and White Lights. (But I still wish they’d resurrect Tully Scope—perhaps with a more attractive name!) We can only count ourselves lucky that a symbiosis exists between the larger, older organizations and upstarts like ICE, and that they make the effort to bring their work to a larger audience, but it is clear where the leadership lies.



Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz in Salonen’s Violin Concerto, with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin and Stravinsky’s Complete Firebird

Leila Josefowicz

This concert was without a doubt one of the great events of the season, whether in Boston or New York, and certainly a high point in the BSO’s unexpectedly patchy year, at least as far as guest conductors were concerned, which seemed almost miraculous on paper, given the short notice allowed by James Levine’s final health setback, but in practice greatly curtailed by the cancellation of some the most distinguished conductors. Riccardo Chailly’s coronary ailment forced him to cancel his two concerts and effectively put him out of the running for the empty music directorship. Andris Nelsons rather strangely decided to go on paternal leave barely more than a month before his scheduled concert. Ill-health made it necessary for Kurt Masur, one of the great interpreters of the Missa Solemnis, to back out of his engagement while already in rehearsal. It was, to say the least, reassuring to find Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing  as scheduled with violinist Leila Josefowicz in an advanced stage of expectancy, much to the delight of her many fans in the audience.



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