New York Arts in Boston

Boston Symphony Orchestra: Looking Up

Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven

Writing here recently about last season at the Boston Symphony, I had recourse more than once to the phrase “just notes going by” in response to Andris-Nelsons-led performances that I did not like (I did praise a number of performances as well). I am happy to say that I think no one would say “just notes going by” about the recent, September 28th concert which opened the orchestra’s subscription series for 2017-2018. First, Nelsons and the orchestra and soloist Paul Lewis presented a definite view of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G-major, Opus 58; they had something to say with it. And the large Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”) which followed, seemed to come into its own and express itself as fully as one could imagine.

Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

Thomas Adès conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

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).

Bizet’s Carmen at the Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera has left its long-time, unsatisfactory home in Boston’s Shubert Theater. This season each production will be mounted in a different space, and the Boston Globe reports that BLO has joined some other local theatrical groups to bid for ongoing use of the fine Colonial Theater (now owned by Emerson College) when it is restored and reopens in a year or so—seems an outcome to be wished for. Meanwhile, BLO has started its current season with Bizet’s Carmen in the Opera House on Washington Street, once home to Sarah Caldwell’s highly creative Opera Company of Boston, in recent years home of the Boston Ballet and site of a never-ending stream of very popular traveling Broadway musical productions. The Opera House is a grand space with good acoustics, a broad stage, sizeable orchestra pit, and adequate lobby space on two levels. It is good to see and hear opera staged here once again.

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.

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.

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.

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