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Category: The Best of 2010

The Berkshire Review’s best of the arts in 2010

Mahler: Symphony No.8 in E flat major, ‘Symphony of a Thousand’

Sacred monster. This year’s Proms season began with the Mahler Eighth, which is like having the Queen Mary tootle up the Thames for the first day of Henley. (To let us down gently, we get Die Meistersinger tomorrow night and Simon Boccanegra the night after that – no musician in London will go without a paycheck this week.) In the bad old days all of Mahler’s symphonies were accused of being freakishly outsized, but only this one, to my mind, qualifies. One longs for it to be smaller, even when the chorus is only six hundred strong, as it was last night, well short of the eight hundred or so it would take to qualify as the “Symphony of a Thousand” – to be fair, the nickname was added by an imaginative impressario. The symphony has trouble getting ashore, but worse than that, Mahler’s conception is self-defeating.

Huntley Dent

About Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.

Welsh National Opera’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Richard Wagner

“Sachs, mein Freund!” Bryn Terfel has sung extracts from Hans Sachs’s music for years, and the character always seemed well suited to his warm voice and air of easy humanity. But he didn’t unveil the complete role until this season, in the very production of Die Meistersinger that visited the Proms last night. Terfel proudly puts Welshman after his name, and he promised the country’s National Opera that they would get his first Sachs. Six thousand listeners in Albert Hall spent most of the afternoon and evening for the privilege, just over six hours (imagine the ones in the arena who had to stand), with scarcely a handful leaving early. Terfel raises sheep at home, and it takes a golden fleece to hear him in Covent Garden, the Met, or Salzburg. Here he was cheap as chips but musically priceless.

Huntley Dent

About Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.

Boulez and Barenboim conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, Wagner and Beethoven

Schoenberg and his two most famous pupils, Webern and Berg, appear to be everywhere this season, receiving the most polished performances by the most distinguished musicians and ensembles. This is a somewhat absurd understatement when one speaks of the likes of Sir Simon Rattle, Peter Serkin, Alan Gilbert, John Harbison, David Hoose, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, and, soon, James Levine, but polish and musicianly mastery are the bare minimum for this uncompromising music, which is difficult for the players and, at least by reputation, for the audience. It is important to realize, however, that once performances are as plentiful and as excellent as they have been in New York and Boston over the past few months, the difficulty for the listener seems miraculously diminished. I’m sure all of these conductors have given serious thought to making this body of great works accessible and appealing to concert-goers, and all of these performances have been eminently accessible, with no trace the smoothing-over or dumbing-down.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

Music in a Time of Disaster…The Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Pierre Boulez, Carnegie Hall, January 16, 2010

To hear a program of music by Mahler and the members of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Webern) five days after the earthquake in Haiti is to experience questions about the role that the arts, and music in particular, plays in our lives. Burke and Kant recognized two categories of artistic experience, the beautiful and the sublime, one characterized by orderliness, balance, and grace, the other by overwhelming power. Beauty is associated with the works of humans, and the sublime with the acts of nature (and/or God, depending on your persuasion). Both pieces on the second half of the Vienna Philharmonic’s program (Webern and Mahler) contained climactic moments that can only be described as devastating, as close as art can get to imparting the experience of disastrous loss. As we read the papers about the destruction of a country, we struggle to find the connection between our own lives and the unimaginable suffering and trauma being experienced by our neighbors and fellow humans. Music can help.

About Laurence Wallach

Larry Wallach is a pianist, musicologist, and composer who lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and heads the Music Program at Simon’s Rock College of Bard. He has also taught composition at Bard College. He studied piano privately with Henry Danielowitz and Kenneth Cooper, and was trained at Columbia University where he studied music history with Paul Henry Lang, performance practices with Denis Stevens, and composition with Otto Luening, Jack Beeson, and Charles Wuorinen. He earned a doctorate in musicology in 1973 with a dissertation about Charles Ives. In 1977, he was awarded a grant to become part of a year-long National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at the University of North Carolina directed by William S. Newman, focussing on performance practices in earlier piano music. He went on to participate in the Aston Magna Summer Academy in 1980, where he studied fortepiano with Malcolm Bilson, both privately and in master classes.

Larry Wallach has been an active performer of chamber music with harpsichord and piano, and of twentieth century music. He has collaborated with harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, with recorder virtuoso Bernard Krainis, with violinist Nancy Bracken of the Boston Symphony, with violinist/violist Ronald Gorevic, with gambist Lucy Bardo, and with his wife, cellist Anne Legêne, performing on both modern and baroque instruments. He has appeared with the Avanti Quintet, the New York Consort of Viols, and is a regular performer on the “Octoberzest” series in Great Barrington. He has been on the staffs of summer early music workshops at World Fellowship and Pinewoods Camp.
In 1996, he presented a program at the Bard Music Festival devoted to Charles Ives designed around a performance the composer’s Second Violin Sonata along with all the source tunes that are quoted in it. Part of this program was repeated at Lincoln Center in NY. He has also appeared on programs in Washington DC, and at St. Croix VI. As a composer, his works have been heard in New York, Boston, Amherst, the Berkshires, and at Bard College.

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