Archive for June, 2012
The Philadelphia Orchestra always WAS the sexiest!
Back in the publicity heyday of art music and the aftermath of Toscanini, Americans knew their five orchestras. It went like this: in Boston you listened to Charles Munch for Gallic excitability. In Chicago, Reiner ruled with a heart of stone but turned out warmer central European renditions than Toscanini had. You flocked to Bernstein for eruptive passion and disreputable energy in New York. And at Severance Hall, in a state of penance, you submitted to the owlish purges of George Szell. But nothing seduced the listener so much as The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy.
When walking into Paris’s first retrospective exhibition of the photographs of Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume, I was met with three mysterious images, visually linked by their askew perspectives. One is a self-portrait of Besnyö, who was born in Budapest in 1910 and broke free of Hungary’s provincial constraints to become a Berlin-based photographer at the young age of 20. The image of the woman in the portrait looks, in a word, contemporary. Unconventionally beautiful, Besnyö looks intensely into her medium format camera, hair tousled as her neck cranes above the view finder to which she is acutely focused, projecting an image of herself as an intense, slightly bohemian artist at work. Besnyö orchestrated this image of 1931 so that the viewer looks up to her from down below, and thus elevated before us is a powerful figure who directs our gaze and controls her own image long before similar strategies were conceived by feminist artists of the 1960s. It is from this point that the viewer commences into an exhibition of 120 prints by a photographer who has been given too little attention.
Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.
Monadnock Music 2012 Preview and Concert Schedule: the First Season under the Directorship of Gil Rose
In the wake of Opera Boston’s sad demise, the appointment of Gil Rose, who had led the company so brilliantly, as Artistic Director of the Monadnock Music came as cheering news. With the 2012 summer season beginning, we can look forward to the fruits of the board’s wise decision. The summer schedule is an eclectic masterpiece which accurately reflects the taste of the more sophisticated music-lover of today, especially in Boston. In comparison, other festival programs seem stodgy. Its mix of modern, contemporary, classical and opera continues the tradition established by James Bolle, who is primarily a composer himself, extended by a few programs of baroque music on period instruments, a significant strain in contemporary performance.
I’ve written many times about musicians’ giving spiels before they play and how intrusive this can be on the music by denying that important transition from the audience’s excited chatter as they find their seats, to the musicians’ walking on, to the silence before the first note. These spiels are very different from the pre-concert talks which are common now and elective, take place well before the actual concert, and can be informative. Here was a more egregious example — first violin Edward Dusinberre gave an entire short lecture before the Janáček and Britten quartets, complete with short musical excerpts just before they hoed into the actual piece. Then Gordon Kerry himself was brought on to talk about his piece just before they played it. I think even a “modern audience” can take its music straight and have a fighting chance of understanding it. The lecturing seemed to throw them off, the words over-specifying and materializing the music, being too heavily prosaic for the music to bear, though perhaps jet-lag and fatigue from touring, or just a bad day contributed, but it was disappointing that the music of this usually very fine group sounded so flat.
The Mohawk Trail Concerts have been taking place in the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts since 1969, when Arnold Black, the distinguished violinist and composer, discovered the outstanding acoustics of this attractive old church. Since then, the festival has presented a rich variety of standard repertoire, modern, contemporary, and less familiar older works. Regulars look forward to the annual concert of Joan Morris and William Bolcom, who will celebrate Bastille Day this year.
Music Mountain Chamber Music Series Season Preview and Schedule 2012: the Summer of String Quartets Continued
This will be an unusually rich summer for string quartets, but Music Mountain will send it into the stratosphere with a schedule in which every concert but one will feature a string quartet, in some cases augmented with a piano, an extra stringed instrument, or winds. The St. Petersburg Quartet, which has been a mainstay of Music Mountain for some years opened the season with a benefit concert including Beethoven Op. 18, no. 4, Tchaikovsky, and the Brahms Piano Quintet with Misha Dichter. The Arianna Quartet followed this with Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Op. 30, and the Franck Piano Quintet with Tanya Bannister.
This year, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the festival of the Yale School of Music, will offer yet another rich season of music played by the young artists of the Yale Summer School of Music, as well as a weekend series featuring the most renowned international artists associated with the Yale School of Music. It will begin with a weekend of new music from Martin Bresnick’s New Music Workshop on June 29 and 30. Most importantly, it will offer the main local opportunity to enjoy the final season of the great Tokyo String Quartet, as I have mentioned in my review of their appearance earlier this month at the Tannery Pond Concerts. The distinguished Artis Quartet from Vienna and the Keller Quartet, from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, will also play.