Tag Archive for ‘Tanglewood’
The BSO has kindly sent me a group of remarkable files spanning several decades of the Festival’s history. Let me say at the outset that the sound on these files is really something. I download them in FLAC format and convert them to AIFF files using a program called XLD. I then burn these AIFF’s to a cd and play them on my system. I have been amazed time and time again at the accuracy and presence of the sound. And this includes the older material. The superior FLAC files are more than worth the extra $10 in their cost ($60) over the MP3 files also offered. Perhaps my favorite of all is a performance of Strauss’s Don Quixote with Piatagorsky and Munch.
The paradox of Berlioz is that he is both quintessentially of the nineteenth-century and in many ways far ahead of his time. Grandiose, self-absorbed, at home in both Heaven and Hell (well, perhaps a bit more in Hell), operating on the largest temporal and spatial canvases, bringing together mammoth forces to speak in one voice; but also episodic and arbitrary in construction, harmonically idiosyncratic and technically suspect, bombastic, addicted to overwhelming sound spectaculars, in short, in questionable taste; in these ways he epitomizes Romanticism. All of these characteristics of his music have been noticed and pondered in attempts to come up with an evaluation of this unavoidable maverick, a figure whose closest counterpart in his own time might be Mussorgsky, or in ours, Charles Ives. Today, with post-modernism, mash-ups, the valuing of discontinuity and fragmentary statements, Berlioz rides high. He is seen as a predecessor to the liberation of tone color as an independent element of construction, as in the music of Debussy. In the past, when polished craftsmanship and solid structure were primary virtues, critics often looked askance at Berlioz’s bulky, generically ambiguous compositions. Today, we recognize the uniqueness of his vision.
It takes some imagination to knit together the diverse strands of a program in which four conductors lead four works that have no obvious connections to each other. The obvious point is to show the playing abilities of extraordinary young musicians who have had only a few weeks to form themselves into an orchestra. The programmers apparently selected pieces that would challenge even the most seasoned group. It is no surprise, then, that the character of the playing altered radically from one work and conductor to the next.
A Singer’s Notes 37: Risk and Ease – Cherubini’s Medea at Glimmerglass, Handel’s Orlando at Tanglewood
Artists like Maria Callas and Vladimir Horowitz seemed to possess as part of their formidable arsenals a kind of palpable risk-taking. Could he actually play it that fast? Could she really get the high note? Alexandra Deshorties is one of these artists. Her performance in the title role of Glimmerglass Festival Opera’s Medea was a real thrill-ride. She entered barely audible, and she made us listen. More than once it seemed like the role was a little much for her. But then it wasn’t. Was this consciously done? Whatever it was, it made the first act of the opera riveting, not just the end. If a word doesn’t make a beautiful sound, she doesn’t compel her voice to make a beautiful sound. Her way of gesturing, equally unpredictable, produced visible responses in the audience members around me. In short, this is my kind of singer.
Fragments of a Festival, a Festival of Fragments: Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood, August 3—7, 2011
As curated by Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938), this year’s festival featured music that spanned a half-century, weighted toward the recent past, with a significant number of older composers heard from whose names are still relatively unfamiliar. This could be taken as an effort on Wuorinen’s part to offer recompense to some of his (relatively) neglected contemporaries. Of twenty-three composers performed, only four are 40 or younger, constituting the smallest age-demographic group. Composers in their 50’s, 60’s, and over 70’s received stronger representation. This enabled the listener to revisit the second half of the twentieth century while catching up on recent stylistic developments. The emerging picture was surprising—there was no single pattern of historical development to be perceived. The notion that musical style progresses in clear directions received no illustration; neither evolving serialism, electronics or neo-tonality predominated. mixed influences were so frequently demonstrated, including all of the above in a single work, that each composition could be viewed as sui generis, characterized by a predominating uniqueness of voice but nourished by various twentieth century stylistic trends. What Allan Kozinn, in his review of the festival (NY Times, Aug. 9) dubbed “style wars” can be declared over. Whether everyone is a potential victor remains up to the individual listener to decide.
Mozart Perfection Midsummer: Emanuel Ax performs Mozart at Tanglewood, August 7, 2011…and a Triumph for Young Bringuier
However, the center movement has always been the most highly regarded of the three, even in Mozart’s day: after its première on December 23, 1785, the audience requested an immediate encore of this remarkable “black pearl.” The muted strings introduce a theme in two sections which is taken up in three variations by piano with increasing intensity and contrapuntal interest and dynamic contrast.
For medieval and modern readers, Dante’s Inferno imparts to the after-life a spatial grandeur, a vision of echoing vaults, vast beyond the reaches of terrestrial architecture, filled with souls in various stages of damnation or beatitude. Our imaginations seem capable of constituting visual and three-dimensional experiences from such partial cues as words on the page or moving images on a screen. Natural locales such as the top of Pike’s Peak or the rim of the Grand Canyon inspire awe, if not vertigo, but provide a different order of experience. Closer to Hell-Purgatory-Heaven, or to the view from the space-ship Enterprise, perhaps, are the interior architectures designed by humans to enclose us in ideological spaces. Chief among these, in the Western historical experience, is the Gothic and post-Gothic cathedral, in which spatial experience is given a precise theological definition.
The Emerson Quartet has become our honored eminence grise of chamber ensembles—they have recorded much of the literature (excluding critical 20th-century repertory by Schoenberg and Carter but including the complete Shostakovich) in performances that are regarded as definitive. Their concerts have taken on the aura that I recall experiencing a generation or two ago with the Budapest and then the Guarneri Quartets. The high-mindedness of the string quartet genre performed by the ensemble known to be the best there is induces in audiences a state of meditative reverence that is sustained by beautifully polished, superbly controlled performances. There is even a moral component involved: rather than relegate one performer to a subordinate role (that of second violinists Alexander Schneider or John Dalley) the Emersons are egalitarian: Philip Setzer and Eugene Drucker share first and second violin duties. Their textural preferences are for rich, even-voiced sound that easily allows the viola and cello to speak through, and the balances are almost perfectly calibrated to display the endless resourcefulness of the composers.