The distinguished senior curator of European paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Ronni Baer, has put together a compelling and instructive exhibition of 17th-century Dutch art (mostly oil painting) that focusses on complex layers of social class (Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, through January 18; which then reopens on February 20 for three months at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO). There isn’t a painting in the show without interest, including a heaping handful of out-and-out masterpieces: early Rembrandt, Hals (in both intimate and heroic—or mock heroic—mode), Ruysdael (those bleaching fields near Haarlem under an enormous cloud-filled sky), de Hooch (that radiant courtyard; that dim geometrical interior), Ter Borch (those glittering satins; that velvety cow suspiciously eyeing a nearby axe), a Van Dyck, and a crisp, penetrating Thomas de Keyser portrait of the Dutch statesman, poet, and musician Constantijn Huygens, father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered the rings of Saturn—a big discovery for me.
BAM's New Wave Festival, from the effervescent anticipation in the lobby to the usually outstanding, rarely boring activities on its stages, must surely be one of the most upbeat environments one can find in New York. One event among those I attended stood out, because of the particular excitement of the capacity audience: the world premiere of Hagoromo, a multi-media work combining dance, puppetry, singing, and instrumental performance—all so artfully combined that the rest of the theatrical ensemble, sets, lighting, and costume, sprang into life in a rare way. The performance made itself felt in the audience before it even began. It was a diverse crowd, a bit different from what one routinely observes at BAM, certainly better dressed than usual. It seemed that this performance exerted an equally powerful attraction on fans of dance, contemporary music, and even fashion, lured by the costumes of the designer, Dries van Noten.
About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.
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?)
Why would anyone want to attend yet another revival of Fiddler on the Roof? Since its premiere in 1964 it has had five major Broadway revivals and who knows how many regional theatre, school and amateur productions. Millions of us have seen this show or its film version at least once. So—you want to know why go again? I’ll tell you why.
Yefim Bronfman is one of the names that comes up when a pianist asks "What are the highly regarded recordings of Prokofiev's piano works?" Embarrassingly, I had not visited those recordings, but was lucky enough to witness his performance of the composer's piano sonatas at Carnegie's Zankel Hall on November 13. This program included the first half of Prokofiev's contribution to the form, with the other half to be performed at Carnegie on separate occasions next year.
Take The Nutcracker standard and blend with a dash of Sally Bowles, a soupçon of Marie Antoinette, a pinch of dominatrix and a lot of spangles and you have the basis of the 2015 iteration of Company XIV's Nutcracker Rouge. Everyone wears heels; in many instances, no one wears a lot else if you discount the G-strings, glittering codpieces and pasties. It's a lot of fun watching the company prance through bits of this naughty-with-a-wink version of the classic Nutcracker with other fairy tales thrown in. There is some actual dancing including the opening, a vaguely Coppelia-ish number with one dancer in pointe shoes clad, as is her partner in Harlequin-like costumes.
Great musical communities are very like a ladder, the humblest freshman at conservatory, right up to the geniuses at the top. Music students have a natural capacity to worship great artists. First, there is a sense of wonder that a human being can do something so beautiful with a piece of wood or a small muscle in the throat. Then they become familiars—a lesson every week, maybe eventually a first-name basis, maybe not. Then the blessed few climb, some all the way to the top. When I was in school in Boston, the rare ones at the top included the genius Seiji Ozawa, the other genius Gunther Schuller, and the late lamented concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein.