Tag Archive: Rachmaninoff

What is and what might have been: More Nelsons at the BSO, Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Riccardo Chailly conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Symphony Hall.

I couldn’t have been more eager to hear Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on their return visit to Boston, part of an American tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Peaceful Revolution” that began in Leipzig in October 1989 and a month later led to the fall of the Berlin wall. Chailly continues to be one of most significant and enriching conductors of our time, and it was profoundly frustrating that, in January of 2012, heart problems prevented him from making his long overdue BSO debut (conducting, among other things, Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps). This cancellation also put him out of the running as a possible replacement for James Levine as BSO music director. There was no way the BSO would risk hiring another music director with health problems. And yet, apparently recovered, here he was in Boston.

Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle at Carnegie Hall, October 2014 — The Russians win.

Sir Simon on the podium

The periodic visits of the Berlin Philharmonic are events most New York music lovers look forward to with keen anticipation, not least myself. I’d even have gone to the Carnegie Hall Opening Night Gala, if that were their only concert in the City this season, to hear the Bruch Violin Concerto and Anne-Sophie Mutter once more, but fortunately that was not necessary. The following evening they played the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, one of his works I particularly admire and enjoy, and the complete Firebird, only excerpted in the gala program, and that second program offered more. In fact they played four concerts at Carnegie and one at the Park Avenue Armory, a very earnest one, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, complete with costumes and staging by Peter Sellars.

A Week of Music in Chapel Hill: Two Conductors, Two Concerts, One Young Composer, a fine Pianist and a Cat

Dolce far niente

This is a piece about coming of age, so I suppose I should start with Tonu Kalam’s cat, always more vocal than musical, but who has approached gravitas since kittenhood two years ago with remarkably matured powers of persuasion! “Dolce” belongs to Kalam and his fiancée, Karyn Ostrom. And his progress towards getting what he wants with supreme efficiency seems to match the improvements I hear in the UNC Symphony Orchestra, which Kalam directs and manages, and where Karyn plays violin among the firsts. In his maturity, “Dolce” has nearly mastered the front doorknob to go outside and roll all over the concrete path and collect pollen, which he unaccountably enjoys. In the past, the expression of his wishes might have seemed less coherent. Today it is focused and not to be trifled with.

Vilde Frang Amazes. Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Satisfy.

Vilde Frang. Photo Marco Borggreve.

Here in San Francisco we are fortunate to experience in fairly rapid succession the world’s great violinists, especially the young ones rising. (And sometimes the older ones falling: Pinchas Zukerman’s recent rough and scrapie visit with the Royal Philharmonic was disappointing—a soaring career tumbling for the nets). But it has generally been a feast: James Ehnes, Simone Lamsma, and now Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang, just to name a few. Given the level of excellence these days, it is sometimes hard to pick a winner and know what winning means. All are remarkably good. But I’ll go out on a limb here.

Trifonov Triumphs at the San Francisco Symphony with Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations. Vänskä conducts Sibelius’s Night Ride and Sunrise, Stravinsky Symphonies of Wind Instruments, and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6

Oscar Parviainen. The Funeral Procession. Inspired by an improvised funeral march Sibelius played for the artist in Paris in 1905. From www.ainola.fi

Whenever you attend an orchestral concert, I’m sure you will have noticed that “Double D” on your ticket stub represents not the seating of the audience by bra size (an intriguing notion), but something more like a banishment to Siberia! “DD” is the last row of orchestra seats in Davies Hall, and at that distance music can become less visceral.

This time, though, I was happy to sit back in the hall, particularly for the music programmed on the second half.

A plus: The Boston Early Music Festival and the Commonwealth Lyric Theater present first operas by Handel and Rachmaninoff

Handel's Almira at BEMF. Photo by Kathy Wittman.

Here’s a weird coincidence. Two composers, nearly two centuries apart, almost polar opposites, were both 19 when their first operas were performed. Both operas are named after central characters whose three-syllable names begin with A. And both just received terrific Boston performances — simultaneously, in different parts of town.

There the coincidence ends.

The Thinking Virtuoso Pianists play in New York, Part I: Hamelin and Hough

Marc-André Hamelin. Photo Fran Kaufman.

There was a time when the virtuosity of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seemed on the wane. Vladimir Horowitz was perhaps the one who ushered it out slowly, over more than one temporary withdrawal from performing and growing criticism of his magisterial approach, as it fell out of fashion. On the other hand, pianists of his generation, like Louis Kentner, and younger pianists like Alfred Brendel and Leon Fleisher, who were technically the equals of Horowitz, chose to focus on purely musical values, using their powerful techniques to bring difficult, but less pyrotechnic works to audiences, for example, the more serious Liszt, Schubert’s late sonatas, and Beethoven’s Op. 106, the “Hammerklavier,”

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