Good Times, Bum Times: Last Year in Boston
Stephen Sondheim’s lyric from Follies seems especially suitable for this past year in Boston, and for the classical music world in general. There was a lot of terrible news: the folding of the New York City Opera, the cancellation of Minnesota Orchestra concerts and the ensuing resignation of Osmo Vanskä, the music director who put it on the map (even George Mitchell couldn’t make peace between labor and management). The worst thing to happen to Boston, especially for the arts, was the sudden shutdown of its most important weekly newspaper, The Boston Phoenix (I’m biased, of course, having written for the Phoenix for some 35 years). With only a day’s notice, some wonderful writers were suddenly out on the street, and the go-to place for listings and reviews became the sound of silence.
Sacred and Profane
“Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks…”—so begins the old rhyme about the 1890s murder case in Fall River, Massachusetts. Both stepmother and father were killed. Though Elizabeth Borden was cleared of the crime in a jury trial, artistic treatments of the case have assumed her guilt, notably Agnes de Mille’s ballet of 1948, Fall River Legend, and Jack Beeson’s opera Lizzie Borden of 1965. There are films and television series, some realized, some still in the planning stage.
A Visit to the “Southland”—Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and the LA Philharmonic in Disney Hall
It wasn't, I confess, the originality of the afternoon's program, which drew me to attend the Sunday concert recently at Disney Hall, but its likely mastery. I was in "The Southland" (as we say in California) in futile search of fahrenheit and friendly sands, only to encounter wet-suits, dogs at the beach and windswept desertion in the face of the same cold-snap that immobilized the East a few days later. But I warmed to the thought of seeing Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos perform again.
W. B. Yeats and Ireland: Photographs, Music, and a Reading, with Dorien Staljanssens, James Cleveland, and Lloyd Schwartz
In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a time for quiet reflection and a turning inwards, we'd like to offer a gift of a recording of New York Arts's second performance event, held on June 1, 2013, at 7 pm, in connection with my own exhibition of photographs of Western Ireland at the Centerpoint Gallery in New York City: a reading/concert in which the acclaimed poet, Lloyd Schwartz, Senior Classical Music Editor of New York Arts, read poems by W. B. Yeats with interludes of traditional Irish music played by Dorien Staljanssens, flute, and James Cleveland, fiddle.
Nelson Freire at Alice Tully Hall
Readers of the Berkshire Review have read my grumblings about the standardized repertoire of the Boston Symphony concerts in the Music Shed at Tanglewood. With some miraculous exceptions, like Stéphane Denève's Poulenc Stabat Mater this past summer, most of the programming comes from a narrow group of works which are the most securely seated in the canon. Hearing them year after year, the critic—or at least this critic—comes think of them as not the backbone of the repertory as much as its flab, its excess belly fat, as those unpleasant little ads say. (We shouldn't forget that the predominance of this conservative programming—the concert hall as museum—is a post-war phenomenon.)
The UNC Symphony Orchestra’s Award-Winning Performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, Tonu Kalam, Conductor
The UNCSO was the 2012 first-place winner of The American Prize in Orchestral Performance—College/University Division for this performance under Music Director Tonu Kalam.
Orson Welles’ Too Much Johnson, restored by George Eastman House
Simon Callow, in his biography of Orson Welles, cites the Mercury actor, William Alland, on Welles' personal devastation caused by the failure the company's 1938 revival of William Gillette's (1853-1937) Too Much Johnson (1894). According to Alland, who was with him most of the time, Welles "retired into his air-conditioned tent at the St. Regis, where he lay in darkness surrounded by 25,000 feet of film...convinced that he was going to die, racked by asthma and fear and despair." Alland reported "the self-vilifications and the remorse for what he had done to those around him..." Although Welles returned to work and to his favorite diversions soon enough, it is clear that the failure of Too Much Johnson was a major defeat for him.