New York Arts in Boston

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?)

Summer Operas: Opposite Poles at Bard SummerScape and Boston Midsummer Opera

Neal Cooper (Mark) in the Bard SummerScape production of Ethel Smyth’s 'The Wreckers.' Photo by Cory Weaver.

If I were one of those opera aficionados who thrives on adding unusual operas to a list, I’d be in heaven. I saw two opera productions this summer — not by Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, or Mozart, but by Friedrich von Flotow and Edith Smyth — and I’d never seen either of them before. One of them was typical summer entertainment, a light and charming comedy, in a modest, stripped down production; the other just the opposite — a grim tragedy that looked as if a lot of money had been thrown at it.

Emmanuel Music, with Andrew Rangell, Piano, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Andrew Rangell. Photo David Shriver.

It is always a pleasure to be in the Cape Ann harbor town of Rockport and to attend musical events in the beautiful Shalin Liu recital hall with its glass wall looking out to sea. The June 26th concert provided a striking contrast in styles of Baroque era music, with works of Bach and Handel, respectively, in the two parts of the program. The listener was invited into an emotional journey from darkness to light.

Opera Boom: Lots of opera in Boston, but how much was really good?

Colin Balzer as Ulisse in BEMF's production of Monteverdi's "Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria." Photo Frank Siteman.

I need more than two hands to count the number of operas I’ve attended in Boston so far this year. Two productions by the Boston Lyric Opera, our leading company; nine (four fully staged) by our newest company, Odyssey Opera; a brilliant concert version by the BSO of Szymanowski’s disturbing and mesmerizing King Rogerall three of Monteverdi’s surviving operas presented by the Boston Early Music Festival, performed in repertory for possibly the very first time; a rarely produced Mozart masterpiece, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, in a solid and often eloquently sung concert version by Emmanuel Music; the world premiere of Crossing25-year-old Matthew Aucoin’s one-act opera about Whitman in the Civil War, presented by A.R.T.; and the first local production of Hulak-Artemovsky’s Cossack Beyond the Danube, the Ukrainian national opera, by Commonwealth Lyric Theatre (imaginatively staged and magnificently sung). Not to mention several smaller production I couldn’t actually get to—including an adventurous new work, Per Bloland’s Pedr Solis, by the heroic Guerrilla Opera, which I got to watch only on-line, and Boston Opera Collaborative’s Ned Rorem Our Town (music I’m not crazy about, but friends I trust liked the production).

A lot of opera! But how full is the cup?

Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and L’Orfeo by BEMF at Jordan Hall

Marco Bussi (Shepherd), Aaron Sheehan (Orfeo), and Nathan Medley (Shepherd). Photos Kathy Wittman.

The recent biennial weeklong Boston Early Music Festival (June 14-21) drew unusual attention for presenting full stagings of all three of Monteverdi’s surviving operas (OrfeoThe Return of UlyssesThe Coronation of Poppea) plus the Vespers of 1610. This in addition to the Festival’s usual 9 a.m. to midnight concerts of a great variety of music from the Middle Ages to Bach, featuring noted performers from all over the world. Enthusiasm ran high all week and audiences were large, especially for the Monteverdi events.

Excitement at the Boston Symphony—Lots of It! But Questions Remain

Christian Tetzlaff with the BSO and Andris Nelsons. Photo Liza Voll.

The perfect word to describe Andris Nelsons’ conducting is “exciting.” He elicits spectacular playing from the Boston Symphony and knows how to mold the sound of the orchestra to his taste. The strings now sound rich, deep, and solid rather than airy, transparent and elegant, as was their traditional, French–flavored style. This works well in a German-Russian program; I am curious to hear what they (Nelsons and the orchestra) will do with canonical French material such as the orchestral works of​ Ravel.

The Winter of Our Discontent: Classical Music in Boston 

Andris Nelsons

As everyone in New England knows, this winter was one long slog. But significant musical events actually got to take place, and some of these have been exceptional. But many have been frustrating and disappointing.

Andris Nelsons in Boston…with Two Superb Concerts under the BSO’s New Assistant Conductor, Ken-David Masur, and an Appreciation of James Levine

Cellist Gautier Capucon, BSO principal violist Steven Ansell, and Andris Nelsons take their bows following their performance of Strauss's Don Quixote. Photo Michael Blanchard.

Andris Nelsons has garnered a lot of attention during his first season as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra—much coverage in the local and even national press; receptions for the public and an exhibition with a talking hologram at Symphony Hall; placards on buses around Boston and in the subway. He threw out a ball for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The BSO organization wants him talked about by the man and woman on the street—especially the younger set. It remains to be seen whether a new younger audience will be drawn to the BSO. Eventually, it’s the music that will matter, not publicity.

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