Tag Archive: Mahler

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.

“Vienna, City of Dreams” in New York: Four Orchestral Concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall

Diana Damrau closes the final concert of "Vienna, City of Dreams," while maestro Mehta looks on.

Nowadays, visiting orchestras often play two or three concerts in New York, and, best of all, these are sometimes “curated” into themed series, like the VPO’s under Boulez and Barenboim a few years ago. This year, Carnegie Hall is presenting an exceptionally ambitious event, Vienna, City of Dreams, which goes beyond the Vienna Philharmonic’s unprecedented seven-concert series of symphonic and operatic works, and includes chamber music concerts, contemporary music, symposia, film screenings, and a few events including the visual arts, including Vienna Complex, a contemporary group exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which has organized most of the events outside Carnegie Hall itself, although no significant exhibitions of the art of the periods represented by the concerts at Carnegie Hall. (The other piece of Vienna in New York, the Neue Galerie, is offering nothing but limited free tours for ticket holders and discounts in their gift shop.) Theater and literature went virtually unrepresented. (A Viennese theater festival, including the Burgtheater, would have been welcome—magnificent, even.) A language barrier in our day of ubiquitous supertitles?

Andris Nelsons Conducts in Boston: BSO Fall Concerts Plus András Schiff Recital

Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO. Photo: Marco Borggreve.

Andris Nelsons has now made his first appearance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra since being appointed its new Music Director. He will return for one concert in the spring and then assume full duties next fall. On October 17th, he was welcomed very warmly with a standing ovation, and at the end of the evening received another, well deserved one for a very effective performance of Brahms’s Third Symphony.

Boston’s Fall 2013 Round-Up

Thomas Adès and the BSO chamber players. Photo by Robert Torres.

This year will, as everyone hopes, be the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s last season without a music director — at least for another five years. Andris Nelsons has been signed up, and although he’s conducting only two BSO subscription programs this entire year, he’ll be really and officially taking charge next fall. His photo is already on the cover of the BSO program book, with the title “Music Director Designate.”

Mahler’s Third Symphony with the BSO under Daniele Gatti at Symphony Hall

Daniele Gatti conducting the BSO with mezzo-sopano Anne-Sofie von Otter and the Tanglewood Festval Chorus in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Photo: Stu Rosner.

I’ve just added another Daniele Gatti concert to my list. He returned for one more BSO program after his disappointing Wagner evening: Mahler’s gigantic Third Symphony. I missed the opening performance, but attended the second of the weekend’s three-concert series. I’d been prepared for the worst. Jeremy Eichler’s review in the Boston Globe was pretty damning…

Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra visit New York with Bartók, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Bruckner, with Leonidas Kavakos

Mariss Jansons

When the Concertgebouw play at Carnegie, it is hard to imagine that any other orchestra could be as good or better. Then we hear Vienna and Dresden (we we shall this season), and we realize that the great Central European orchestras flourish in spheres all their own, and that it is a fool’s errand to attempt to rank them. Still, when it comes to communicating what a composer wrote, rather than a particular tradition of playing, the Concertgebouw remain unsurpassed. And if one refers back to the magnificent legacy of recorded performances under conductors associated with other orchestras—Walter, Klemperer, Szell, Monteux, and others—one consistently finds that their performances with the Concertgebouw represent their very best work. This year’s visit went right to the mark.

The Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall: Debussy, Dvořák, Schoenberg, Elgar, Bruckner, Wolf, and Mahler

A U.S. tour by one of the great European orchestras is a a costly endeavor—for everyone concerned—and, even if it is a biennial occurrence, it should be nothing less than an important event, especially in New York. I find it a severe disappointment when an orchestra offers routine programming on tour, no matter how well it shows off their glories. These are missed opportunities. The Berlin Philharmonic and their Director, Sir Simon Rattle, therefore deserve our thanks for sticking with the “curated” programming which made their last visit to Carnegie Hall such a memorable esperience. Back then, they combined a cycle of Brahms symphonies with works by Arnold Schoenberg. This year they have taken a step forward and a step back, narrowing their range, to explore the origins of the modern in music in the 1890s. On the way, they have also managed to include some of Sir Simon’s signature repertoire in Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations and Mahler’s Second Symphony, both among the works with which he made his reputation early in his career.

Ludovic Morlot conducts the BSO in Harbison, Ravel, and Mahler at Davies Hall, San Francisco

Not since the Dresden Staatskapelle last played here has an event exuded a like aura of serious appreciation. Despite its current state of unsettled leadership, the Boston Symphony represents a substantial portion of America’s iconic musical past, and you had the feeling on Wednesday that some very proper Bostonians, themselves virtual institutions, had emerged from public obscurity to render homage. Indeed, it was almost disturbing to witness the age of the audience, which in San Francisco tends to be youngish and oriented to date-night. The young, of course, ever perceive disapproval on the faces of the old, though this can be an inadvertent byproduct of trying to focus uncooperative eyes. Some of us in our sixties ruefully begin to notice this. But my imagination wasn’t prepared for the scene in the lobby, where a thousand apparently scowling octogenarians patrolled the halls like alligators—-peering challenges into the not-quite-recognized faces of enemies. Thank heavens for the rejuvenating waters of music!

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