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William Christie

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

October 22

BSO/Charles Dutoit/Yo-Yo Ma Bring Brits

The Boston Musical IntelligencerThe urbane, world-traveling, Swiss-born Charles Dutoit has the BSO on his busy schedule for the next two weeks, and on the basis of many strengths evident in last night’s concert, readers would be well advised to hear the orchestra while he’s here. Last night’s music by British composers William Walton, Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst provided powerful lessons in the heroic and honed. Yo-Yo Ma, the admirable virtuoso and all-consuming seer into everything within his orbit, gave a penetrating and soulful account of Edward Elgar’s 1919 Concerto in E Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 85. Annotator Hugh Macdonald wrote: We may discern in the Cello Concerto a sentiment of resignation and even despair generated from within by that strong vein of melancholy that had always been an inescapable element of Elgar’s music, and from without by the desolating impact of the Great War. But the Cello Concerto is not a threnody, nor even…a deliberately planned swansong. It is reflective, playful, tearful, and energetic by turns, like all his best music… Just so. And it is this chameleon-like character that can render certain lesser performances of this music unduly episodic. No chance of that with Dutoit and Ma. The two were as of one mind about this music, remaining always in touch with one another, taking visual cues from each other in the form of an arched eyebrow and a knowing sympathy of thought on a mutual path of music making. Watching the orchestra’s response to Ma’s glances in their direction added further delight. Ma admirably altered the timbre of his cello at certain points to match the timbre of a dovetailing instrumental line, such as at one moment, a flute solo, or at several other moments, when he purposely opened up his Moes and Moes-built cello’s low strings’ resonances to greet the entire double-bass section. Ma’s sympathy of thought makes him a pluperfect collaborator. The cellist gave the most coherent and convincing take this listener has heard in concert. Cello fans, hie thee hence for the remainder this run! The concert had opened with a zesty and bracingly fiendish reading of the busy Overture, Portsmouth Point (1925) of William Walton, which the BSO first played under Serge Koussevitzky in Symphony Hall November 19, 1926, 90 years ago almost to the day. One wonders how last night’s crackling exhibition might have compared with that earlier one. The hyperactivity begins with the downbeat and doesn’t quit until the finale. Only a couple of fleeting moments betrayed a bit of unfamiliarity with this score, which the orchestra last performed under Richard Burgin in 1941. By this weekend I’ll wager the orchestra’s performance will be flawless. How remarkably forward looking work was Gustav Holst’s Op. 32 Suite The Planets when it arrived in its completed version in London under Albert Coates on November 15, 1920, a full 96 years ago. No less today do we admire its bold and unconventional orchestrations and exotic melodies, its wide breadth of emotion, and its human as well as its ethereal connections. One became totally immersed, reveling in the impact of the many fff moments and relishing the intricate workings of the inner details. Imitations of Morse code signaling repeating in the violin, along with the subsequent imitative glockenspiel notes coming early in the Mercury, the Winged Messenger gave much amused enjoyment. The tympani beats a similar repeated pattern later. Could this latter be suggestive of native drumming, another form of messaging sent though the ether? I note with pleasure: the brutal and endlessly repeated tritone-pitched poundings in 5/4 meter of Mars, The Bringer of War, emblematic, one presumes, of the senseless and mindless brutality of seemingly unending cosmic and earthly combat… the joy and irrepressible spirit of Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, which strides along carefree and confident, pausing only at its center to frame a melody that hints of a higher plane of nobility and promise which later Holst reused, first as a patriotic song created in 1921 and set to the verse of Sir Cecil Spring Rice, and later published in 1926 as a hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” whereafter it was regularly sung at Armistice memorial ceremonies. As such it has become as inextricably woven into the fabric of British hymnody as Parry’s contemporaneous Jerusalem. the incessant flute and harp ostinati at the beginning of Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, later imitated by two tubular bells and then answered in titanic volume by the entire orchestra, all tolling the inexorable passing of time… the hypnotic spinning of the atmospheres of far-distant worlds heard in Neptune, the Mystic, where the diaphanous orchestration is bedecked with sparkling starlight points of light played from the celesta. Then, at its end, Holst’s crowning effect – the singing and slowly fading away choir of distant female voices, endlessly repeating an oscillating 5/4 measure of 7-part harmony which Holst notes in his score “…are to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.” the 29 women from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, prepared by Guest Chorus Conductor Lisa Graham, were appropriately distant and sirenic. Charles Dutoit and Yo Yo Ma (Robert Torres photo) Kudos to many of the orchestra’s outstanding instrumentalists: Mike Roylance, for his mastery of the exposed tenor tuba solo early in Mars James Somerville, Principal Horn, for his repeated rising four-note solos in Venus Timothy Genis, whose timpani virtuosity throughout, especially in Uranus, the Magician, was breathlessly essayed Malcolm Lowe, BSO Concertmaster, for many elegant solos Martha Babcock, Acting Principal Cello, for her heartfelt spotlight moments The entire brass section, with every member playing above and beyond in color, depth and with “grace under fire” James David Christie, organ, and the bass section, whose deep and soulful underpinnings were felt as well as heard Charles Dutoit, who knows this music thoroughly and recorded it in a highly acclaimed performance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, made an ideal communicator, and the orchestra appeared completely engaged with his many demands. His tempi were ideal, his pacing impeccable, his shading of dynamics skilled and nuanced. His many subtle rubati, paced to wonderful effect in the Elgar Concerto, were again abundant the powerful exposition of The Planets. I would not miss the remaining opportunity to hear this magical score in this masterful interpretation. John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 37 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 45 years. The post BSO/Charles Dutoit/Yo-Yo Ma Bring Brits appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

Royal Opera House

October 21

Debate: Should you dress up for the opera?

Diana Damrau as Violetta Valery and Francesco Demuro as Alfredo in La traviata, The Royal Opera © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2014 Most opera houses won’t enforce a dress code. But the notion of what to wear has remained a sticking point for years. So long, in fact, that for many seasoned opera lovers, it's as tiresome as its sister question from the world of classical music: 'Should you clap between movements?' That said, we're still asked almost every day by soon-to-be audience members about the 'correct' attire for an evening at the Royal Opera House – so: should you dress up for the opera? Kasper Holten , Director of Opera for The Royal Opera, says yes. ‘Going to the opera is and should be special, a treat for yourself, where you go far away from everyday life and into the stuff that really matters in life,' he says. 'You will be seeing and hearing amazing artists who have trained for years and years performing for you in incredibly beautiful surroundings. Celebrate it.’ The idea that attending an opera is a special occasion is shared by many other companies too, in varying degrees. Sydney Opera House says wearing a tux is not the norm, but they do insist ‘shoes are worn at all times’ – Einstein on the Beach -wear isn't encouraged for opera-goers making the trip from nearby Bondi . Issac 'Turbo' Baptiste in The Mad Hatter's Tea Party © ROH. Photographer Alice Pennefather, 2014 The Metropolitan Opera won’t turn you away for wearing jeans, but there’s an inference what you choose to wear is part of the whole performance of the evening. Visiting Lincoln Centre is a ‘great excuse to get dressed up’ – and if you do, you might be one of the chosen few that makes onto their style blog – Last Night at The Met . Glyndebourne offers more of a nudge, calling formal evening dress ‘customary’ for the summer festival and even warns audiences about the perils of the British weather. The tradition reaches back to when the festival was founded by John Christie and his wife Audrey Mildmay , who felt wearing your finest attire was a way of showing respect for the artistry and talent on stage. Dancers from La Traviata © Neil Gillespie/ROH 2011 For many, the idea of donning your glad rags is met with horror or alarm. How can opera be for 'everyone' if not everyone feels they'd fit in wearing a fancy outfit? But, as Kasper Holten explains, it's not about the clothes, it's about the whole experience of the night out: ‘Dressing up doesn’t mean being able to afford Armani or Prada,’ says Holten. ‘It can mean putting on your favourite jeans, the dress you use on very special occasions, making an effort to make yourself feel special, to feel that this is something special. So don’t go to the opera to dress up and impress others – but impress yourself.’ We asked our Twitter followers what they thought: // @TheRoyalOpera come as you are I say - provided it's not in your birthday suit! — Rachel Holland (@LowerSlipsGirl) October 19, 2016 // ]]> .@TheRoyalOpera people should be comfortable in wearing whatever they like to go to the theatre, opera, ballet, a concert. — Lee McLernon (@bangorballetboy) October 20, 2016 @mpgf1973 @TheRoyalOpera You don't need the whole penguin suit but I'd say put your good jeans and that nice shirt of yours on — Margaret Brown (@MagsTheObscure) October 19, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera @RoyalOperaHouse Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes! For an occasion as grand as the opera house, only your glad rags will do! — Sam Hayden-Harler (@samwell86) October 19, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera However you feel comfortable, you're there to enjoy yourself. But it's a nice excuse to dress up a little if you want one — Jane J-B (@Bouillabaise) October 19, 2016 So what do you think – should you dress up for the opera? Let us know in the comments below:

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

October 15

Brilliance Left Us Aghast

Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša arrived for his debut week at the BSO Thursday in a fury of blood and thunder in an all-Eastern European program that pictorialized the orchestra’s sonic depth and breadth. Along with him came a Boston favorite soloist, violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, making his 12th appearance (by program) at Symphony Hall (curiously, since his debut in 1988 with Seiji Ozawa, he has never performed here with the BSO Music Director conducting). There were two works by Czech composers on the bill, the first being the opener, Smetana’s Šárka, the third number in the six-entry Má Vlast cycle of tone poems. While some of the cycle, as it happens the most popular, depict the natural world of Bohemia, others go into history and legend, and Šárka is one of the latter. The story is one of those “hell hath no fury…” revenge tales whereby the titulaire, leader of a band of female warriors, having been jilted, takes out an invading force of men by first luring them in, pretending to be a damsel in distress, then slipping them a mickey and having her forces come in and slaughter every man jack of them. For those familiar with the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, this can be understood as the nightmare version of Princess Ida. Smetana does an excellent job in this nine-minute bloodbath of finding music to characterize Šárka’s rage, her false siren-call of distress (she has herself tied to a tree)—in a marvelous clarinet solo silkily performed by William Hudgins—and her victim’s hapless infatuation (carried by the cellos, whom Hrůša had stand as a section in the call-out). After a big-bang opening on the “rage” theme, Hrůša did all the right things with dynamics and tempo shifts; we especially applaud the delicacy of the cymbals (Kyle Brightwell, we think) in the march-like tune of the invaders. Zimmermann next provided a very splendid performance—in front of a music stand, interestingly, which he only appeared to consult when turning the page—of the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 (which, of course, used to be just “the” Bartók Violin Concerto until the score of No. 1 turned up in the 1950s). Written in 1937 after the composer had completed Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, it comes near the beginning of Bartók’s final compositional phase, in which the noisy modernism of his middle period softened and his natural Romantic inclinations were allowed to reassert themselves (no, this was not a result of his pandering to American tastes, as this all preceded his emigration to the US). The sound of this fabulous piece, probably one of the top three violin concertos of the 20th century, is the essential Bartók sound, opening with a beautiful, modally-inflected but regularly shaped melody over gentle harp strums, with passagework that introduces some of the more jagged and harmonically crunchy features of the 1920s. The score is also replete with Bartók’s innovations in sonority, especially in string technique: the snap-pizzicato, col legno scraping, and so forth. These sounds are more convincing in some places than others, where they still, after all these years, have an air of arbitrariness about them, though in the slow movement, they were absolutely perfectly placed. There is razzle-dazzle aplenty in the solo part, and Zimmermann gave it the full measure of brilliance and, where required, grit. In the slow movement variations on another exquisite melody, Hrůša kept the accompaniment, except in the couple of loud ones, to a hushed delicatissimo, to great effect, as where the celesta floated to the surface in a few riffs torn from MFSPC. The finale, whose theme is based on the first movement’s, took off seamlessly from the slow movement and sailed confidently with all sheets. Zimmermann engaged in silent dialogue with the orchestra, his head bobbing their part (and he sometimes provided his own percussion accompaniment with his foot). This was obviously a labor of love on everyone’s part, so we feel a little hesitant to note that there were places where the wind passages lacked edge and brilliance. All in all, though, a superior production, which the audience acknowledged with enough curtain-calls to generate an encore, in the shape of Ernst Schliephake’s astonishing transcription/arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor, op. 23 No. 5, with more notes in it than one can imagine anyone having the fingers to play, but Zimmermann knocked everyone’s socks off doing so. After intermission, the blood-and-thunder theme resumed, with the thunder part taken by the Halloween-comes-early presentation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s rendition of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (though it was St. John’s Eve, and not All-Hallows Eve that Mussorgsky was writing about). While Rimsky’s posh orchestration is a showpiece of color, which the BSO provided aplenty while Hrůša loved the big build-ups, we were disappointed that this young European conductor didn’t bring the increasingly popular revival of Mussorgsky’s raw, vibrant original to Symphony Hall with him. If you want to know about the crackle and edge of the original, in contrast to the rough-edges-polished away Rimsky version, go no farther than Valery Gergiev’s window-rattling treatment with the BBC Orchestra at the 2004 Proms, here . The closing work was one new to the BSO, Leoš Jánaček’s 1915 three-movement orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba, a piece reflecting Jánaček’s infatuation with pan-Slavism and Russia in particular (ever so slightly misplaced here, as will be noted). It is based on a story by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, about a family of Cossacks from Ukraine (not Russia, at least not yet), headed by the eponymous father of the clan. The three sanguinary movements depict the deaths of each of the father’s two sons, the first at the hands of the old man himself for having betrayed their nationalist faith by siding with the Poles who then ruled Ukraine (yes! The Poles were once rulers of others), the second by the Poles after a torture session, and finally the father, burned at the stake. The orchestration is vivid, lurid even (the second son’s torture is evinced by the cries of the E-flat clarinet, a torturous instrument if ever there was one, though Jánaček’s rather oddly elegant line, perfectly rendered by Thomas Martin, pales in comparison to the shrieks Mahler and Shostakovich elicited on the instrument). Hrůša’s leadership again emphasized dynamic contrasts, extremes even, which surely would have pleased the composer. The brass section was in its glory, with all hands on deck (the orchestral forces for the Smetana were large, but for Mussorgsky and Jánaček they were enormous: we lost count of how many contrabasses were on stage, and for good measure James David Christie was at the organ console). Jakub Hrusa and Frank Peter Zimmerman (Hilary Scott photo) Truth to tell, we have some issues with this work. First, the musical pictorialism was not as acute as Smetana’s: Jánaček at this point was really more of an opera composer and this story seemed to want a libretto. This, combined with Jánaček’s general disjointed style—the only really sustained bit of music was the nationalistic peroration at the end—made for a degree of confusion over where one is at any moment, though there were some spectacularly wonderful chordal progressions here and there. Second, and one hesitates to put this forward, there is a sense of queasiness, of moral objection that this piece engenders, not about the violence depicted, but the unquestioning nationalistic fanaticism that Jánaček seems to be celebrating here (we haven’t read the Gogol, so there may have been an appreciation for the psychological and social cost of flinging and sacrificing one family member after another into the cauldron, but there certainly was no such countervailing weight in the music). As an exercise in pure orchestral brilliance and sonic impact, it’s a great piece, but as an artistic statement it left us a bit aghast. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Brilliance Left Us Aghast appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

William Christie

William Christie (December 19, 1944) is an American-born French conductor and harpsichordist. He is noted as a specialist in baroque repertoire and as the founder of the ensemble Les Arts Florissants.

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