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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.

Gil Shaham’s Tchaikovsky and Bach: Double Virtuosity

Gil Shaham’s double appearance at Tanglewood made a powerful statement: that he was the master of both ends of the spectrum of virtuosity, with the implication that every other challenge would fall somewhere in between. On the one hand, there was a visceral, mercurial, spontaneous and totally commanding performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto, a work whose technical challenges are so great that it was supposed to have been declared unplayable by its intended first performer.






David Snider, Ron Komora, Deb Borthwick, Abbey Maher, Rob Forgett and Kyra Fitzgerald in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" at Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education in Cambridge, N.Y. John Sutton / Hubbard Hall.

A Singer’s Notes 121: A Miscellany

So many things. First, you must get in your car, and go see Hubbard Hall Theatre Company’s The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The performances of David Andrew Snider and Erin Ouellette, the central couple of the drama, must be seen. Theirs were fully realized, lived in performances. Silence became a subtle participant. Their final dialogue was riveting. There was generosity between these actors. Not just listening, but generous listening, selfless listening.






Jeannette Sorrell. Photo Roger Mastroianni.

Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire: The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, talks to Michael Miller

Just yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire, the highly acclaimed period orchestra based in Cleveland, where she founded it twenty-three years ago. Today, rather like the venerable Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire tours extensively in North America and Europe, bringing Ms. Sorrell’s warm, expressive vision of Baroque playing to both seasoned and neophyte audiences. Tomorrow, July 2, she will lead them at Tanglewood in a program called “Bach’s Coffee House,” referring to the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig, where first Georg Phillipp Telemann and later Johann Sebastian Bach organised free public concerts. The program will include excerpts from Telemann’s incidental music to Don Quixote, Bach’s Fourth and Fifth Brandenburgs, and short pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.






Lizzie Borden reaches for the axe in Jack Beeson's opera at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Murder Myth Married to Music—Lizzie Borden Wields her Axe at Tanglewood

In Jack Beeson and Kenward Elmslie’s 1965 retelling, Lizzie Borden is unequivocally presented the murderer of her step-mother and father; in the opening moments, as the orchestra starts up with a scream of outrage, Lizzie runs onstage with an axe and plants it firmly in the middle of the family table. It remains there for most of the opera, sometimes reached for, sometimes stroked, and eventually seized with murderous intent.






Andris Nelson conducts the BSO at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Two Weekends in the Country: The BSO and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, the new Clark, Mass MoCA, and Boston Midsummer Opera’s Bartered Bride

As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).






Jonathan Epstein (Tchaikovsky) in Shakespeare & Company's None but the Lonely Heart. Photo by Enrico Spada.

A Singer’s Notes 78: The Contraries

The wise have shown us down the generations that beautiful spirits can hold two contrary ideas in the mind, carrying their weight and feeling their lightness. Through some kind of serendipity these last weeks have asked this of me. First, motion and music. I am thinking of the suave Stéphane Denève and the awe-inspiring performance of Debussy’s Jeux he conducted with the orchestral Fellows at Tanglewood. He conjures shapes which in turn conjure sounds. Rythymic complexity becomes ease.






The Borodin Quartet.

The Column and the Pedestal: Quartets by Brahms and Tchaikovsky, performed by the Borodin Quartet

The string quartet medium and the classical style are almost synonymous. They fit each other so perfectly that they appear to be two sides of the same coin, complementary aspects of the same musical impulse. At least that is the impression one gets from the core literature of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, the composers discussed in Charles Rosen’s “The Classical Style” (one of the best books about music of any kind — a classic in itself). The two sides of the coin, however, started to pull apart in interesting ways after Schubert. By the later nineteenth century when Brahms and Tchaikovsky were writing their quartets, there were a number of ways that music could be matched to the quartet medium. The idea that a quartet is no longer simply a conversation among four players takes hold. Mahler thought that Beethoven’s late quartets are too large in their gestures for just four players; he transcribed several for string orchestra and programmed them on concerts which he conducted.1 Mahler’s view of the quartet as a miniature orchestral work may have been influenced by romantic quartets that appear to be bursting at the seams, straining against the limitations of a mere four instruments. For the romantics, emotional intensity could equate with thick, full textures and grandiose emotions. Chamber music for more than four instruments was popular throughout the century; both Brahms and Tchaikovsky made distinguished contributions to the literature of the string sextet.