Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.
There are all sorts of motivations for going to a concert. As a former conductors' agent, I was curious to learn what Juraj Valčuha would be like in person. (I missed his SFS debut here a few seasons ago.) Valčuha is a forty-year-old Slovakian rapidly climbing the guest-conducting and music directorship career ladder. He is currently in charge of the RAI Orchestra in Torino, but has appeared by now with most of the major European and American ensembles. So what would he sound like?
It has taken time for Sir William Walton’s Second Symphony to find a secure place in the repertory. But I think this new CD from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony fully confirms its place in the canon and right to be there. Walton is the sort of artist, like Oscar Wilde, who interests sociologists, because he hides depth in the shallows.
In the five seconds it takes Baby June to sing out Gypsy’s “Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile,” Lafayette in Hamilton’s “Guns and Ships” will have sung “I’m takin’ this horse by the reins makin’ redcoats redder with bloodstains. Lafayette. And I’m never gonna stop until I make ‘em drip, burn ‘em up and scatter their remains, I’m Lafayette” That’s 9 words for Gypsy versus 32 words for Hamilton, nearly four times as many. Granted, “Guns and Ships” is one of the faster songs, but know this: there are about 24,000 words in Hamilton according to the book, Hamilton The Revolution. That’s more than The Merchant of Venice! So if you think you’re going catch all the words when you see the show without a bit of study, think again. Even with headphones or sitting right under a speaker (where I sat), you will miss a lot. With Hamilton, you won’t want to miss a thing.
The Norwegian pianist and scholar Christina Kobb came to wider attention in the United States when a New York Times writer picked up an article in a Scandinavian science magazine about neurological research carried out on her to analyze her movements as she played an electronic keyboard using modern and nineteenth century technique, which she has researched in her dissertation.
Mason Bates will surely forgive us--if I suggest the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra out-deviled everyone at this concert! For a Saturday afternoon in May, Davies Hall was well attended, with a more jovial parental buzz than usual. Lots of children were in the audience. Hope springs eternal they won't fidget--utopian when dealing with three-year-olds inclined to crawl. One of the forward boxes resembled a puppy-pen throughout, with lots of motion, aleatoric burbling and various appendages attempting to escape the banister. But no matter.The music won.
The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer's most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt's output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.