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Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

Andris Nelsons conudcts the Mahler Ninth at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scatt.

Nelsons at Tanglewood 2016, One Weekend

Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.






Dejan Lazic. Photo by Susie Knoll.

Shakespeare and Egypt?

Shakespeare-inspired opera, ballet, and tone poems formed the frame-work for this colorfully varied program, somehow containing the non-Shakespearean and infrequently heard Saint-Saens “Egyptian” Concerto. A charitable stretch might imagine a reference to “Anthony and Cleopatra,” but thematic consistency is not necessary for an interesting afternoon of music.






Best Concert of the Year?

Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.






François-Xavier Roth with the BSO in January, with solo turns from Elizabeth Rowe (flute), Jessica Zhou (harp), and Renée Fleming (soprano)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra started the new year well with two programs under the direction of guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, who hails now from Cologne and is very active in Europe, much sought after. Conducting without baton, vigorous and engaged, Roth holds the players’ attention and gets what he wants. Orchestra and audience alike feel caught up in an unusually tense and purposeful address to the music at hand.






Gunther Schuller

The Year that Was: Boston Classical Music in 2015

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 Boston Conservatory Grand Opening Performance featuring Joseph Silverstein, violin Photo Eric Antoniou.

A Singer’s Notes 119: Fall Festival, Shakespeare and Company, 2015; Jacob’s Ladder

Great musical communities are very like a ladder, the humblest freshman at conservatory, right up to the geniuses at the top. Music students have a natural capacity to worship great artists. First, there is a sense of wonder that a human being can do something so beautiful with a piece of wood or a small muscle in the throat. Then they become familiars—a lesson every week, maybe eventually a first-name basis, maybe not. Then the blessed few climb, some all the way to the top. When I was in school in Boston, the rare ones at the top included the genius Seiji Ozawa, the other genius Gunther Schuller, and the late lamented concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein.






George Gershwin

Gershwin Stands Out: American Music at Tanglewood’s Opening Night

George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto overshadowed works by three other American composers in the opening Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood on Friday night (July 3). Those included John Harbison, whose “Remembering Gatsby” began the program with its oxymoronic mixture of modern symphonic angst and ‘20’s pop enthusiasm; Aaron Copland represented by “Lincoln Portrait,” whose evocative score forms the background to a series of political utterances the contemporary signGeorge Gershwin’s Piano Concerto overshadowed works by three other American composers in the opening Boston Symphony concert at Tanglewood on Friday night (July 3). Those included John Harbison, whose “Remembering Gatsby” began the program with its oxymoronic mixture of modern symphonic angst and ‘20’s pop enthusiasm; Aaron Copland represented by “Lincoln Portrait,” whose evocative score forms the background to a series of political utterances the contemporary significance of which was underscored by the austere and effectively harsh delivery by John Douglas Thompson (replacing an indisposed Jessye Norman); and an overblown orchestral version of Duke Ellington’s tone poem “Harlem.”ificance of which was underscored by the austere and effectively harsh delivery by John Douglas Thompson (replacing an indisposed Jessye Norman); and an overblown orchestral version of Duke Ellington’s tone poem “Harlem.”