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?)
The title A Little Night Music is only the first of the many inspired elements of Stephen Sondheim’s inspired 1973 musical version of Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (or, more correctly translated, I’m told, Smiles of the Summer Night—i.e., the night of the summer solstice). Of course it calls up both Bergman’s most subtle comedy as well as Mozart’s most famous serenade. And although Sondheim’s stream of waltzes and other triple-meter dances more directly evolves from Viennese operetta than Viennese opera, there’s a consistent Mozartian elegance and chiaroscuro to this work. The high water mark of Sondheim’s career was probably in the 1970s, the decade of Company (1970), Follies (1971), Pacific Overtures (1976), and Sweeney Todd (1979), all collaborations with director Hal Prince. Everything that followed was more problematic, although many admirers would add Into the Woods (1987) to this list, and I’d also include the moving Passion (1994). Sondheim himself regards his Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George (1984) as his best work.
For my part I could not be more pleased that the Cantata Singers, following their usual custom, have devoted this season preponderantly to the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams. Sir Colin Davis' powerful rendition of his Sixth Symphony with the BSO in 2007 was memorable, but not nearly enough to counterbalance the neglect Vaughn Williams' music currently suffers in the United States. In Boston, there is bound to be the odd choral work cropping up in one church or another or on the programs of the many secular choral groups in the area, but the Cantata Singer's focus on Vaughn Williams in their 2010-11 season is none the less welcome.
Yehudi Wyner, whose career as a composer and a performing musician goes back some sixty years, finds himself entirely focused on the present at the moment, and very positively so. For one thing Bridge Records, who have issued the most substantial body of his work on CD, have released his collected sacred music, and Mr. Wyner is very pleased to have it all together in one place. Secondly, he is anticipating the premiere of a new work, a secular cantata called Give Thanks for All Things.