New York Arts in Boston

Wagner, Tannhäuser Overture. Sibelius, Symphony No. 2 – the BSO’s first recording under Andris Nelsons

Nelson's debut recording with the BSO

I don’t think I have heard the Boston Symphony sound this full and deep since Koussevitzky. This CD inaugurates Andris Nelsons’ era at the helm of the BSO and signals a reinforcement of the orchestra’s considerable strengths in the more brooding side of the continental repertory.

Opera and Passion: Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Early Music Festival, and Odyssey Opera

Heather Buck as Miss Havisham. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Is there a more passionate art form than opera? In what other mode is the uninhibited expression of feeling—tragic or comic—so central? More central than reason. Given the emotional liberation of great music, what can in a mere plot description appear to be absurd (a woman tossing the wrong baby into a fire; a “fallen woman” sacrificing her entire future and the happiness of her lover for the sake of her lover’s respectable sister; a man killing his best friend in a duel because he has flirted with his girlfriend; a nobleman secretly meeting his own wife in disguise—madness, murder, and deception) can become through music profound and moving, Revelation and Catharsis.

Warm welcome: Andris Nelsons takes charge of the BSO

ndris Nelson conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his ingural concert as music Director, 9/27/14. Photo Chris Lee.

A Gala concert at Symphony Hall marked the first time Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony as its 15th Music Director (at Tanglewood this past summer, he was still Music Director Designate). He of course received a warm welcome from the audience—a standing ovation—as warm as the ovations that greeted Seiji Ozawa and James Levine. Since Levine resigned in 2011 for health reasons, BSO subscribers and attendees have been longing for someone to be in charge.

Living “City”! …at Odyssey Opera, Boston

Frank Kelly, Alan Schneider, Thomas Meglioranza, Jana Baty, and Sara Heaton in the Odyssey Opera production of “Die tote Stadt.” Photo Kathy Wittman.

SOLD OUT! The signs taped to the front doors of Jordan Hall told a rare story for Boston’s classical music scene. Odyssey Opera began its second season with a hit on its hands—the Boston premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), a romantic work now best known for a soaring soprano aria, “Marietta’s Lied,” a favorite of any diva who can sing a high C on pitch (and some who can’t).

Crowned: Opera Odyssey’s June Festival, plus Guerilla Opera and Commonwealth Lyric Theater, and OperaHub

Verdi's Un giorno di regno, ensemble.

For a city that hasn’t seemed very welcoming to opera, Boston has had a lot of opera going on lately. Since Opera Boston closed on January 1, 2012, there’s been only one major opera company left, the Boston Lyric. But last fall, Gil Rose, former music director of Opera Boston, returned as the head of an important new company, Odyssey Opera, leading a rare performance in concert of Wagner’s first opera, the epic Rienzi. It was a critical success, and now, at the intimate BU Theatre, Odyssey has let its other shoe drop with two programs of fully staged smaller-scale but equally unusual repertoire: Verdi’s second opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), the first of his only two comedies and one of the biggest flops of his entire career; and a double bill of Mascagni’s even rarer “lyric scene,” Zanetto, last seen in Boston in 1902, when Mascagni himself brought it on an American tour (and was  thrown into the Charles Street jail for not paying his company), and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s 1910 farce, Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s “secret” being her unladylike addiction to cigarettes).

Handling Handel: Mark Morris’ Acis and Galatea, plus more Handel, Monteverdi, BLO’s I Puritani, the Met’s Cenerentola, and other adventures in opera-land

Portrait of George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner.

The Mark Morris Dance Group was back in Boston with the East Coast premiere of a major new work, Handel’s ravishing pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, under the aegis of the Celebrity Series of Boston, one of the co-commissioners. I loved it. Or to put it more accurately, I’m in love with it, and saw three of its four performances at the Shubert Theatre. Morris has now staged several complete operas and one Handel oratorio. At least two of these are generally regarded as his masterpieces: Purcell’s one-act opera, Dido and Aeneas (1989), in which all the singers are offstage and the dancers play the main characters; and Handel’s L’Allegro,il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1988), in which the singers are also offstage, and there are no charactersBut in Rameau’s delectable Platée (1997) and in Morris’s productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (Handel and Haydn Society, 1996; the Metropolitan Opera, 2007), singers played the leading roles and appeared on stage along with the dancers.

Pianissimo: Memorable keyboard art by Russell Sherman and Marc-André Hamelin and chamber music by the Takács and Borromeo String Quartets trigger some personal reminiscences

Lloyd Schwartz, 1988, by Robert Giard

This season marked the 75th Anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, founded by Aaron Richmond, whose widow, Nancy Richmond Winsten, sponsors the piano events and is still a familiar attendee. I have a deep sense of nostalgia about the Celebrity Series. The very first concert I ever attended in Boston was with the Budapest String Quartet (my favorite quartet) in 1962. It was my first year of graduate school (I was a very young grad student) and I was living on a $1500 a year scholarship. I had neither time nor money for anything as frivolous as a chamber music concert. But I had to go. The Jordan Hall box office told me the performance was sold out… unless I was willing to take a cheap stage seat. So there I was, sitting a few feet away from the Budapest Quartet playing Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. It remains one of the greatest concerts I ever heard in my life.

B-List Works Shine Forth at Symphony Hall. Andrew Davis leads the BSO in Vaughan-Williams, Prokofiev (with Yuja Wang), and Rimsky-Korsakoff

Ralph Vaughan-Williams

The oeuvre of the each of the greatest, most familiar composers can be imagined as a personal cosmos, a collection of works of great power and quality, spanning a wide range of style and expression. Mention of their names is almost enough to arouse expectations of music belonging on the A-List. Other significant but less ubiquitous composers can be known to concert audiences through small numbers of repeatedly performed works that possess an identifiable sound, style, and mood. Less familiar but important works by two such composers, Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Serge Prokofiev, received fine performances by the Boston Symphony in late March, along with an A-List favorite by Rimsky-Korsakoff. These works gave audiences a chance to savor some less familiar, even surprising sides of their composers’ artistic personalities, and to provoke curiosity about what other works by these composers might be lurking in the shadows of the B-List.

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