Friday, October 28, 2016
Mary Mackenzie (file photo) “Bracing Voices,” Collage’s season opener at Longy last night bore a strange promotional name, since only the final item actually included a voice. The basic nuclei of old expert Collage hands were all present: Catherine French, violin; Joel Moerschel, cello; Christopher Krueger, flute; Robert Annis, clarinet; Christopher Oldfather, piano; Craig McNutt, percussion; and director David Hoose, conductor. To these were added Anne Black, viola, and Mary Mackenzie, soprano, who have performed with Collage before. The half-empty house showed enthusiasm, well deserved by the vivid playing of this veteran ensemble. Nina C. Young, who currently works at the Columbia Computer Music Center, was on hand for the Boston-area premiere of a new piece, Rising Tide for seven players, an essay in tidal waves of strident sound. The structure alternated between big, bell-like chords supported by the piano and fixation on individual long-sustained pitches around which the instruments would hover and dodge with semitone clusters. One heard a busy beehive of string glissandi, bent woodwind pitches and warbles, exotic percussion (vibraphone bars and suspended cymbal played with a bow; glockenspiel played with cymbal brushes), and inside-the-piano techniques. A printed epigraph from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar about “a tide in the affairs of men” might have inspired political speculations: one could feel all the boats being lifted in this election season. Arthur Berger (1912-2003), a member of the Cambridge-Boston musical scene for decades, and a beloved professor at Brandeis University for 27 years, wrote Collage III on commission from this ensemble in 1992, revising it two years later. Its nine short movements showed a fine consistency of texture and sound, with pointillistic gestures of two or three notes relaying between different instruments in a counterpoint that seemed related to both Webern’s Symphony and Stravinsky’s Movements. The piano dominated much of the texture throughout. The triplets in the “Grazioso” movement were graceful enough; the textures of “Amabile con moto” and “Poco vivace” moved from tentative to assertively elaborate with brittle staccati; the widely-spaced sound of flute and cello had a strange sound for a consonant fifth with several octaves in between. Two of the movements could be identified by the sudden appearance in the percussion section of a small seed-shaker no bigger than a matchbox, and yet the sound was penetrating and even scary. Despite the atonal conception, Collage III seems to pay more homage to the neoclassical Stravinsky than to post-Webern serialism. Andrew Rindfleisch’s What Vibes! boasted jazzy, carnival-like expostulation with marimba (no vibes) and an especially explosive snare drum. The composer noted the “inside-out” C major that reappeared, blurred, and disappeared, with the piano most prominently projecting chords in alternating hands—C major in one hand, a black-key cluster in the other. The solo clarinet began with high shrieks, and ended the work with a quasi da capo. In one frantic passage, piano, marimba, violin and cello pizzicati, and piccolo fell all over each other, then were suddenly cut off by an interrupting low D in the bass clarinet, in a comic gesture worthy of Spike Jones. I watched David Hoose beating a steady 4/4 throughout, occasionally varying with a fast 3/8. Robert Annis got a special acknowledgment for his ecstatic high-register clarinet. Hayg Boyadjian has written a series of Mis Tangos— “My tangos.” Following the intermission came the premiere of Mi Tango No. 2—Al Abstracto, written for Collage and in homage to Astor Piazzolla, a friend of Boyadjian when they both lived in Argentina. This boisterous assortment of chromatic scale segments, figurations, flourishes, and flams in loud and uniformly staccato bursts, was mostly led by the piano, with a lot of melodic lines in octaves. The texture was rhythmic, with a good deal of coalescence, of coming-together of patterns, but nowhere could I make out even a faint resemblance of tango. That is probably what is meant by “abstracto.” The harmonic idiom felt simultaneously pungent and sensuous. William Kraft, 93-year-old percussionist, conductor, and elder-statesman composer honored us with his attendance, and in the pre-concert discussion shared fine stories about his career. I asked him about the recording of Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître in which he and Dorothy Remsen had played percussion, and that was still a sensation shortly after it first appeared in 1959 when I was a student at Tanglewood. Kraft told me that Robert Craft, no relation of course, had directed no fewer than 60 rehearsals in preparation for the Los Angeles concert in 1957, but that Boulez himself had conducted the performance; two years later, Craft conducted for the recording. Hoose chose Kraft’s settings (composed 1990) of four of Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire poems in Hartleben’s German translation— four from the 29 texts that Schoenberg didn’t set — using the standard Schoenberg ensemble plus percussion, and including alto flute. The four poems “Feerie,” “Mein Bruder,” “Harlequinade,” and “Selbstmord” were separated by short but spacious interludes. Although Kraft did apparently specify some Sprechstimme, the greater part of these songs called for singing, thankfully, for Mary Mackenzie possesses a wide range of vocal expression from operatic declamation to hushed whisper. (She has already had good experience with Schoenberg’s Opus 21, including performances that I heard in Maine two years ago and reported on in these pages.) It would be unfair to compare Kraft’s settings with those of Schoenberg, with whom, as he explained, he had no desire to compete, but inevitably one noticed that Kraft’s approach to the texts sounded more lyrical and relaxed, and allowed greater temporal breadth than in Schoenberg’s often hurried, furtive declamation. Especially moving: the barcarolle-like interlude midway through “Feerie,” the dialogue of cello harmonics with percussion in “Mein Bruder,” the sostenuto interlude that followed with long notes for alto flute and bass clarinet menacingly underlined by tamtam shimmer, the fff “silken rainbow” in the last line of “Harlequinade,” and especially the overall restraint of expression in most of “Selbstmord” (suicide). One would think that the last song called out for cries of anguish, but no, Pierrot hangs himself more or less peacefully “in the moon’s white robe.” Collage New Music (file photo) Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, harmony. The post Bracing for Collage appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
This recording by conductor Simon Rattle and cellist Sol Gabetta enable us to experience music of great contrast that ranges from the quiet and sublime, to the strongly rhythmic. The selections are: Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, with Sol Gabetta (cello) Ligeti: “Atmosphères” Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring Richard Wagner: Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1 All performed with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle conducting. The orchestra performs the prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin, György Ligeti’s orchestral piece Atmosphères and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, a work which is entirely focused on new sound of the early 1900’s, and pushes the boundaries of classical music in terms of sound, rhythm and energy. Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker contrast the prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin and György Ligeti’s orchestral piece “Atmosphères” perfectly, demonstrating that they both employ different styles to pursue a similar objective – an iridescent, otherworldly sound. Star cellist Sol Gabetta provides an outstanding interpretation of Elgar’s Cello Concerto: the final great work of the composer, full of melancholy and a sense of farewell. In contrast to Elgar, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps is focused on the future. Despite its inherent modern sound it also provides a wealth of sensual pleasure which the musicians communicated with total ease. Here is a brief extract of the Elgar concerto:
The English musician Thomas Adès, esteemed composer, pianist, and conductor who this season becomes the BSO’s first Artistic Partner, looks to be settling into a large role as contributor to the local classical scene. On October 28th he performs Schubert’s Winterreise at Jordan Hall with the acclaimed tenor Ian Bostridge, in a joint presentation of the BSO and the Celebrity Series. Two days later, October 30th, Adès joins the BSO Chamber Players and mezzo Kelley O’Connor as pianist and conductor to open the ensemble’s with his own own Court Studies from the Tempest, the Trout Quintet, Britten’s Sinfonietta for Winds and Strings, plus chamber arrangements of Shakespeare-oriented songs by Brahms, Stravinsky, and Purcell. Wednesday November 2 at the Goethe-Institut, he will participate in a free “conversations with creators”; student composers from Boston-area music schools will also attend Adès’s BSO rehearsal the next day and participate in a conductor / composer Q&A afterward. That day and the next two, the new Artistic Partner leads the orchestra and soloists Christianne Stotijn and Mark Stone in his own acclaimed Totentanz for mezzo, baritone, and orchestra, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, and Sibelius’s Tapiola. Premiered in 2013 at the BBC Proms, Totentanz sets a 15th-century text telling of a charismatic and gleefully macabre Grim Reaper and the procession of his many victims, whom the audience meets in descending order of social standing. Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is dramatically expressive, while Sibelius’s atmospheric final orchestral poem, Tapiola, is one of the composer’s many works based on Finnish legend; the BSO hasn’t performed it for 40 years. Adès’s rich commitment to the BSO as Deborah and Philip Edmundson Artistic Partner will span over the next three years a range of activities reflecting his gifts as one of the great musical minds of the 21st century. Britten’s dramatic early orchestral work was written in 1940 for a commission from Japan to celebrate its 2600th anniversary. But the government found its Christian underpinnings, Latin movement titles, and contemplative mood unacceptable. By the time it was premiered, by the New York Philharmonic in 1941, Pearl Harbor had been attacked and Britten had taken up residence in the US as a conscientious objector. “I’m making it just as anti-war as possible,” wrote the pacifist composer. I don’t believe you can express social or political or economic theories in music, but by coupling new music with well-known musical phrases, I think it’s possible to get over certain ideas.” Tapiola was written in 1926, its subject the frigid, forbidding Finnish pine forests and Tapio, their ﬁerce god-spirit, who rules over the trees and wildlife. After a blustery opening, all sense of time is suspended, and for nearly 20 minutes the music creates a remarkable picture of the stark landscape via the composer’s archetypical orchestration: breezy sighs and freezing gusts from the strings and high winds rustling leaves on branches and on the forest ﬂoor, brasses and timpani creating a shifting sense of three-dimensional space. Thomas Adès’s Dance of Death was composed in 2013 and sets a text that accompanied a 15th-century German frieze depicting Death (the baritone) dancing with individuals from all strata of humanity (the mezzo), from pope and cardinal to maiden and child. The work is both macabre and funny and reminds the listener that totentanz is the one dance none of us may refuse—“one we all have to join in,” the composer points out. “[The music] is supposed to be at the same time terrifying, leveling, and funny—absurd … the thing that makes it comic is the total powerlessness of everybody, no matter who they are.” Thomas Ades leads the Boston Symphony (Stu Rosner photo) Adès joins frequent collaborator the English tenor Ian Bostridge for a performance of Schubert’s song cycle for voice and piano set to 24 poems by the poet Wilhelm Müller depicting the journey of a lonesome, griefstricken traveler who leaves love behind and contemplates his mortality on a frozen winter road. Six excerpts from the composer’s 2004 opera the Tempest make up Court Studies, for violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Three other Shakespeare-inspired works are included: Brahms’s Ophelia-Lieder, arranged by John Woolrich for voice and chamber ensemble; Stravinsky’s Three Shakespeare Songs; and Two Songs from Purcell’s Tempest arranged by Adès for voice and piano. All three feature mezzo Kelley O’Connor. To open the BSCP program, the musicians perform music by another groundbreaking English composer, Britten’s three-movement Sinfonietta, written in 1932. Occupying the second half of the program is Schubert’s surpassingly tuneful Trout Quintet for piano and strings, which the composer completed when he was just 22. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players feature first-desk string, woodwind, and brass players from the BSO, and the October 30th concert features Malcolm Lowe, violin; Haldan Martinson, violin; Steven Ansell, viola; Mihail Jojatu, cello; Edwin Barker, bass; Elizabeth Rowe, flute; John Ferrillo, oboe; William R. Hudgins, clarinet; Michael Wayne, clarinet; Richard Svoboda, bassoon; and James Sommerville, horn. The post Thomas Adès Now: Present and Peripatetic appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .
Here's something I've never seen before: a concert by the SF Opera Chorus, and hoorah for that. They're a great group that has made immense contributions to many, many performances. Their role in Les Troyens was unforgettable, for instance. I will be out of town on the 19th and can't go to this program, but I hope there's a good turnout. Those Debussy songs are gorgeous, which I know because I sang them many years ago. Note the early start time of 7 p.m. OUT OF THE SHADOWSConcert featuring the San Francisco Opera Chorus November 19 at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 pm)Taube Atrium Theater, Wilsey Center for OperaVeterans Building (4th floor), 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA Approximate running time: 60 minutes (no intermission)Tickets: $30 general admission Chorus Director Ian RobertsonFabrizio Corona, piano Program (subject to change) Johannes Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem: IV “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”Claude Debussy: Chansons de Charles d’Orléans1. “Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder!”2. “Quand j’ay ouy le tabourin”3. “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”Leos Janáček: The Wild DuckIgor Stravinsky: Ave MariaArvo Pärt: Bogorditse Dyevo (Ave Maria)Franz Biebl: Ave MariaHector Berlioz: Le Ballet des Ombres H 37Sergei Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37, VIII: Praise the name of the Lord,Traditional: “Ride on King Jesus” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Traditional: “Deep River” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Charles Alfred Tindley: The Storm is Passing Over (arranged by Barbara W. Baker)Eric Whitacre: Water NightRichard Wagner: Tannhäuser: “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle” (“Entrance of the Guests”)Jerome Kern: Show Boat: “Hey! Fellah!”
drumslight-11. Photo by Kamal Aboul-Hosn What a racket! Shostakovich punctuates his first opera, The Nose , with instrumental interludes, and the first of these is scored exclusively for unpitched percussion. An assortment of drums, cymbals and other motley instruments are bashed and rattled with explosive, feverish energy that builds to climaxes of nightmarish intensity. This ingenious movement is much more than a headache in aural form, though, as Shostakovich shows us that he can reflect the deadpan wit of his source material without needing to use either of those usually essential tools of the opera composer: words or melody. The interlude is sandwiched between scenes that show men with hangovers having awful days. First the barber Ivan Iakovlevitch wakes up hoping to solace himself with some bread and onions. But lurking in the loaf is a nose – possibly belonging to an unlucky customer. His wife screamingly demands he dispose of it, which Ivan miserably slopes off to do. But how to manage that without attracting the interest of the police? Platon Kuzmitch Kovalov, painfully waking after the interlude finishes, has an even worse time of it. Worried about a pimple he noticed on his nose the day before, he goes to fondle it – and finds, instead of a nose, a smooth flat patch of skin. His nose has done a runner. The source for this stupid story is Gogol ’s tiny tale The Nose, considered one of, if not the best, short stories ever written. One of the things that Shostakovich admired most about this miniature masterpiece was how ‘Gogol states all comic events in a serious tone’, and the same unshakeable deadpan characterizes his opera. ‘I did not want to make a joke about the nose’, Shostakovich says. ‘Honestly, what is funny about a human being who has lost his nose? The Nose is a horror story, not a joke.’ Indeed. Horror is laced throughout the many different musical styles Shostakovich co-opts into his score, and has its first real outburst in this gruesome, percussive interlude. He doesn’t give us just a lot of noise, though: like the comedy, this is horror in a very serious tone. As you would expect with a percussion ensemble, rhythm is the crucial compositional ingredient. Shostakovich marshals with ruthless precision the voices of his nine instruments. (Do you want the list? Here’s the list: bass drum, castanets, clash cymbal, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, tom-tom and triangle.) Quite dissimilar to the music of his near-contemporary Stravinsky, which delights in changing time signatures, Shostakovich maintains a regular pulse throughout, fiercely emphasized by ‘ta-ta-TAH’ rhythms and jabbing syncopation – a foreteller of the ferocious marches that storm throughout the music of his later career. There is, inevitably, some of the same militaristic sense here in The Nose. But that’s far from being all that’s going on. Drum roll, if you please! Shostakovich instantly conjures a shadowy circus, and it’s a roll long enough to cover all kinds of alarming animal activities. It ends, though, with a cheeky cymbal crash, punchline to a vaudevillian routine. That marks the end of the interlude’s first half, but its mirror at the end of the second half has bombastic, unsettling jolts like shells falling on a battlefield. Connecting these two long assaults is music that starts off like a fugue, an intricate subject passed between each voice, and becomes something more impressionistic, expressed through muttered outbursts that are quickly stifled. Connecting all those different feelings together, taken as a whole the interlude can morph yet again and even work as a simple (if complex) parody: David Syrus , The Royal Opera’s Head of Music, hears a send-up of Wagner ’s chorus of anvils from Das Rheingold , that track his gods’ descent into the grimy world of the Nibelungs. A march, a chorus line, explosions with a punch line, death and comedy – it’s all there. In this three-minute interlude Shostakovich telescopes the vibrancy of the whole opera, hinting at the wealth of methodical musical madness that is to come, alluding to all of the different styles that make up this exuberant, show-off piece. And he does it all without sounding a single note. The Nose runs 20 October–9 November 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Komische Oper Berlin and Opera Australia and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Hamish and Sophie Forsyth, The Tsukanov Family Foundation and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .
By Jacob Stockinger By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success. It left The Ear with several big lessons: The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece. The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner . Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan ? Not at all. It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles. So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below). You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces. So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed. That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them. The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season. Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan . (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach , Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini , Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky? But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers. The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it. True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory. So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer! Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note. The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly. Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought. If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have? Do you agree or disagree with The Ear? The Ear wants to hear. Tagged: Alisa Weilerstein , Antonio Vivaldi , Arcangelo Corelli , Artistic director , Arts , Bach , Baroque , Beethoven , Boyce , Chamber music , Classical music , Compact Disc , concerto , Franz Schubert , Gavotte , Geminiani , Georg Philipp Telemann , George Frideric Handel , Igor Stravinsky , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Johannes Brahms , John Harbison , Joshua Roman , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Madison Symphony Orchestra , Mendelssohn , Mozart , Music , Niccolo Paganini , Orchestra , Sergei Prokofiev , solo , symphony , unaccompanied , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Violin , Violin concerto , Wisconsin , Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra , Yo-Yo Ma , YouTube
Igor Stravinsky (17 June 1882 - 6 April 1971) was a Russian-born, naturalized French, later naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most important and influential composers of 20th century music. He was a quintessentially cosmopolitan Russian who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the century. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1934 and a naturalized US citizen in 1945. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works. Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911/1947), and The Rite of Spring (1913). The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design. In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over his last twenty years. Stravinsky's compositions of this period share traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells, and clarity of form, of instrumentation, and of utterance.
Great composers of classical music