Music

Aston Magna Music Festival 2017 – A Preview

Hector Del Curto, bandoneonista

The Aston Magna season, the 45th(!), is almost upon us. We can look forward to an extended schedule, adding fifth and sixth weekends at the Brandeis and Great Barrington venues, which is no longer on the Simon’s Rock campus, but at the recently renovated Saint James Place.



Charles Dutoit conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Emanuel Ax, piano, in Sibelius, Mozart, de Falla, and Debussy

Gustave Courbet, The_Wave, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland

If you ever wonder how Sibelius’ music seems to come in two styles, one bardic, noble, warmly patriotic and slightly thumpy; the other austere, cerebral, craggy and interplanetary, think Karelia. This is the eastern portion of Finland near the White Sea, where ancient forms of native song and poetry still obtained at the turn of the last century. As Vaughan Williams scoured England for folksong and Bartók transcribed them in Hungary, a similar romantic enthusiasm for Finnish roots swept young Finns of the day. Karelianism, it was called, and Sibelius’ suite derives from the music he wrote for the Karelia Pageant of 1893, which represented something of a culmination of the movement. The opening “Intermezzo”, otherwise a contradiction in terms, was in fact used to separate two tableaux within the festivities.



Justin Bischof conducts the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City in Beethoven’s 7th and 9th Symphonies

Justin Bischoff conducting athletic the Seventh Annual Outreach Benefit Concert for Children

Justin Bischof, who has built a reputation as a brilliant church organist and choirmaster, has found characteristically ingenious ways to integrate his passion, symphonic conducting, with his duties as Director of Music at The Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale as well as an admirable local charity, the “Transforming the Lives of Children through Music” Benefit, netting over $400,000—and growing—which has enabled over 425 at-risk inner-city children to attend a life-altering summer camp in recent years. The latter benefit concert is traditionally The Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York City’s (CCO/NYC) seasonal culmination. Dr. Bischof founded the orchestra to enhance the presence of his fellow Canadian musicians in the New York Area. Through these ambitious enterprises, he has enriched the musical life at his church beyond any reasonable expectation for a suburban parish and served an admirable program for enhancing the lives of underprivileged children. And Bischof is as passionate about the charity as about the great music he conducts to further the cause. The powerful performance of Beethoven’s Ninth we heard was deeply moving, as it should be, but I was even more moved by the fine young people who gathered before that to sing simple choruses.



Deborah Stone: Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama

Deborah-Stone

I never seem to get to jazz and cabaret performances very often, but Deborah Stone’s performance, Still Exactly Where I Belong, at Don’t Tell Mama was memorable, and I’ll be ready for her next appearance, probably in the fall. This was a gem of charm, intimacy, and meticulous musical preparation combined with a personal, heartfelt relationship to the songs. Ms. Stone is a versatile artist, having interwoven careers as and actress, singer, and above all dancer. All were active—and interacting—in her show



The Bethlehem Bach Choir: Christmas Concerts in Advent; Bach Festival, with a Performance of the Mass in B Minor in May

The B Minor Mass during the 2015 Bethlehem BacjhFestival

These weeks following following Easter have proven rich in musical events that transcend the usual rationales behind public performances, usually having something to do with attracting large crowds to hear prestigious musicians in prestigious venues, or the annual ritual of Handel’s Messiah or one of Bach’s Passions. I’m thinking of special occasions, either serving some higher human purpose or deeply rooted in the culture of a particular place—for example, a recent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Westchester County, which was not only outstanding in itself, but held to benefit an especially inspiring cause…of which more in another place soon. I’ve already written about the special power of the Bach performances in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which have continued under various local auspices since at least 1823.



Meet the Key Pianists Concert Series with a Memorable Recital by its Founder and Director, Terry Eder

I’d like to harken back to another recent piano recital in Weill Hall, in which its fine Steinway was brought into a sound world quite different from those of Christina Kobb and Thomas Nickell, whom I heard play shortly before the artist in question—Terry Eder, a New York pianist who specializes in Hungarian piano music, beginning with Liszt, and including Dohnányi, Bartók, and Kodály.



A Crop of Recordings XIV: Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Wagner

Richard Strauss Conducting

Here is a really lovely performance of Ein Heldenleben, perfectly recorded in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. From the very first note—that rich ocean-liner steam whistle signifying a voyage through life—it’s satisfying—if, that it is—you like things a bit understated. You are sitting about row “K,” and the orchestra is laid out before you at a slight distance. Listeners familiar with the many videos of this orchestra on YouTube will not be disappointed at the fine balances and purring nature of the sound. This is a satiny, swift reading, gently beautiful, supple and romantic in an undemonstrative way. It reminds me of Reiner’s and Kempe’s versions, both of which bring the piece home similarly at around 45 minutes.



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