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Tag: James Levine

Tanglewood: an updated 2010 Season Preview, and a Backwards Look at 2009 – James Levine not to appear.

The news I have been expecting has now officially arrived:

James Levine will withdraw from his concerts with the BSO and Tanglewood Music Center due to further recuperation time needed after recent back surgery.

Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the BSO opening night performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on July 9, and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem on July 16, as well as the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 on July 17.

Christoph von Dohnányi will conduct the staged Tanglewood Music Center Production of Strauss’s Ariadne Auf Naxos on August 1 And 2.

Johannes Debus will have his BSO Debut, conudctin Mozart’s The Abduction From Seraglio on July 23

Hans Graf will lead the BSO in program of marches, waltzes, and polkas by the Strauss Family on July 25 .

An announcement about substitute conductor for program of Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong on July 31 will be forthcoming.

These and other changes have been entered in the season schedule below.

What can one say to this? I left my opening sentence as it was, because Maestro Levine’s cancellations are now routine. I wrote a defense of the Maestro back in February, and that still stands. Levine has improved the orchestra, organized some excellent programs, and conducted some brilliant performances, along with some mediocre ones. There is nothing sadder than being unable to work, especially if it is an artistic vocation to which one is devoted, and Mr. Levine’s health may well be out of his control, but he has disappointed his audiences and his TMC students for too long. He has missed 60% of his BSO engagements this past season, and now there is more. We don’t know what to expect next season, either at the BSO or at the Met, where Levine was to inaugurate a much-publicized new Ring Cycle. There is enough evidence for us to conclude that he is truly physically incapable of pursuing the agenda he has taken up at both institutions. It is time for him to cut back his commitments to the point where he can give his best to his public and his students on a reliable, if not consistent basis.

Beethoven’s Third and Fourth Symphonies…Levine and the BSO

In October 1803, Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries wrote a publisher about the new Third Symphony: “In his own opinion it is the greatest work he has yet written. Beethoven played it for me recently, and I believe that heaven and earth will tremble when it is performed. He is very much inclined to dedicate it to Bonaparte.” Ries was speaking metaphorically, and, metaphorically, he was right. In the world of music, the Third did shake heaven and earth. As the longest, most complex, most intense, most personal symphony ever written, it met the inevitable incomprehension in its first performances, but within two years some critics were calling it the greatest symphony ever written and a model for the future.

The Boston Symphony in the New Year: Levine Returns

The Boston Symphony began the new year with a reduced ensemble, brilliantly conducted by the early music specialist Ton Koopman. The orchestra didn’t attempt gut strings or period winds and percussion in any way, but the players responded intuitively to Koopman’s brisk tempi and sprung phrasing, resulting in a satisfyingly vigorous, if not quite revelatory Haydn Symphony No. 98, the last of his first set of Salomon symphonies, followed by Yo-Yo Ma’s exuberant, somewhat exaggerated performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, a most welcome and impeccably played symphony by C. P. E. Bach, and a very beautiful Schubert “Unfinished,” limpid in texture and phrased with fine taste and feeling. I’ll say more about this in the context of Alan Gilbert’s almost simultaneous concert, which also paired Schubert’s Eighth with a Haydn symphony of an entirely different kind.

Selig sind die Toten – What Schütz Taught Brahms

Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)

James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra Perform Simon Boccanegra

Strained relations. Wagner’s Ring cycle was once famously described (by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I believe) as a family quarrel. At least it’s more than that, which might not be true of the plot to Verdi’s troubled, vexing, and beautiful Simon Boccanegra. Like several other operas in the Verdi canon, it comes to us as a late revision of a failed early work. Yet even though the revision called upon the considerable talents of Arrigo Boito, who coaxed the aged composer to write Falstaff and Otello by supplying him with irresistible words, Boccanegra is indecipherable. If your child can solve Rubik’s cube, give him this story to untwist. More of that anon.

Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine: Berg Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

The Berg Violin Concerto (1935) and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1910) are indeed a magical pair. Not only did Berg have a great affection for Mahler, both works are suffused with an elegiac, deathwards-inclined but lifewards-looking mood and a kindred morbid lyricism. The formal affinities between the two works are also intriguing. The concerto consists of two movements in two sections, while the four movements of the symphony also fall into a binary pattern, one of two slow movements framing a pair of fast movements. Their differences are also enlightening. Mahler’s thematic vocabulary remained full of the popular motifs which he first absorbed in his early work with Des Knaben Wunderhorn and street music, and Berg, while weaving in a wistfull memory of a Viennese waltz, constructed the last of his two movements on a chorale of Bach (“Es itst genug!” from the Cantata, Ewigkeit, Du Donnerwort whose rich setting was sympathetic to Berg’s own harmonic vocabulary. As rich and contemporary as Berg’s treatment was, it evokes the purism of the “back to Bach” trend of the twenties and thirties. For more biographical background and analysis, click here for the rich program annotations by Michael Steinberg, which also include a fascinating defense of Mahler’s music by Aaron Copland, actually a letter to the New York Times from April 2, 1925, which was reprinted in the BSO program to the Mahler Ninth’s American premiere in 1931 under Serge Koussevitzky.

Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, BSO, Levine, Saturday, September 27, 2008, 8:00 PM

In 1865 Johannes Brahms set to work on his A German Requiem, following the death his mother, Christine Brahms, who died in February of that year. Formally, it is his most original work—later his genius found a secure place in traditional forms, above all the symphony. Before expanding on that, I should take Brahms’ example in remembering my own teachers, especially since one of them once had a principle which has some oblique relevance to A German Requiem, or at least to my own experience of it.