Watching Mark Morris’ dancers swoop and soar in V, (the number five, a reference to the number of musicians playing Schumann’s Quintet in E-flat major) was entirely thrilling. There are no stars in the company so the group has to work very hard—they do but it doesn’t show. The work is a pure representation of dance integrity.
What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech--not annoy the professor!
It would be hard to peg with certainty the guiding concept in Michael Tilson Thomas' recent choral program for the San Francisco Symphony. As so often with MTT, the selections appear a sophisticated grab bag. But intuition suggests the topic of nature and the metaphysics which spring from appreciating it. Thomas' introductory remarks for each piece certainly leaned in this direction. Mounting the podium, he reached for his mike and held it like a weapon overhead. This can often result in a verbal concert and the disapproval of old ladies in the audience. But the nature of the music was such that his remarks were appreciated and not too long.
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.
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.”
A portion of the rich but sometimes neglected trove of American symphonies was given a welcome exposure during the valuable Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in early May, thanks to the ongoing commitment to this repertory of music directors David Alan Miller and Leonard Slatkin. The beneficiary composers, Morton Gould and Charles Ives, both stand apart from the mid-century symphonic mainstream, also neglected, of Piston, Sessions, Schuman, Harris, Diamond, et al. It was a fascinating juxtaposition, particularly since Gould’s symphony has been largely absent since its premier in 1947, and most of Ives’s works had to wait lengthy intervals before receiving their first performances.
Leopold Stokowski seemed to float in and out of Carnegie Hall last Saturday evening, as Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in their festive—and massive—50th birthday celebration. In fact Maestro Botstein made it perfectly clear that the concert was as much about the founder as it was about the orchestra in his introductory talk and in his important program note, available on the ASO site. The American Symphony Orchestra was the fruit of over twenty-two years of short-lived attempts by Stokowski to found orchestras which put into practice a few ideals that were dear to his heart: bringing American-born and -trained musicians into the mainstream of classical music, to make orchestral concerts easily and inexpensively available to working people, and to play repertory outside the most familiar classics.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s “American Mavericks” concerts came to New York, centered on four programs at Carnegie Hall with the superb San Francisco Symphony, surrounded by a whirl of fringe events throughout the city. This was a bold and appropriate way to show not only the versatility and virtuosity of the orchestra but also the evolution of orchestral culture in the United States: the works were played as modern classics, with the ideal combination of polish and bite that they call for. The audience has clearly evolved along with the orchestras: Carnegie Hall was close to full with a healthy mixture of grey and not-so-grey heads intently focused on the music. So accomplished and appealing were the performances that even the Feldman work, probably the most novel work on the program, held audience attention effortlessly through its 26-plus minute duration.