If Carl Maria von Weber occupies an esteemed position in music history textbooks, his works make only rare, fleeting appearances on opera programs outside Germany, even Der Freischütz, considered to be his only work with a sufficiently convincing libretto to merit staging today. As for Weber’s popularity in the United States, I expected to find that Der Freischütz had been a standard at the Met earlier on in its history, perhaps up until the 1960’s, when its theme of good triumphing over evil would have begun to grate, or at least before the First World War, when anti-German sentiment put a damper on such Teutonic entertainments. To my surprise I learned that, except for the 1880’s, the 1920’s and a 1971-72 production which never lasted beyond its first year, Der Freischütz was largely confined to individual arias performed at concerts, which were more frequent at the Met before the Second World War. (Weber’s Euryanthe received four performances in 1887, and Oberon was staged—very successfully, it seems—in 1918 with all dialogue removed and the remaining text refashioned.) Der Freischütz has been kept alive primarily by recordings, a famous one under Carlos Kleiber from 1973, a radio recording under Carlos’ father Erich, and a magnificent Salzburg performance under Wilhelm Furtwängler, not to mention Kubelik, Jochum, and a recent one under Harnoncourt.)
Boston was recently the scene of an extraordinary event, the first Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music, initiated by the Alice M. Ditson Fund, which sponsored a series of more modest contemporary music festivals at Columbia University in the 1950’s. Now, in 2008, it has been revived in a more ambitious form, as a biennial festival, which will take place in a different American city, curated by a leading musician from that city. Accordingly, the next Ditson Festival will occur in New York City in 2010. The inaugural festival in Boston was organized by Gil Rose, the almost incredibly productive director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Opera Boston, was to my mind so successful, that it seems a pity for the Festival to move on anywhere else, as fine an idea as its itinerant comprehensiveness may seem.
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.
Perhaps it is the relative ease, beauty, and quiet of the Berkshires—just the right remedy away from noisy New York and Boston…even Salem and Concord—that inspires writers. But certainly beginning in the 19th century through today Berkshire writers have had a consuming fascination with the mystery of place and how natural beauty and a closely hewn society are able to create the illusion of good in the presence of brooding evil. Elizabeth Brundage’s psychological thriller, Someone Else’s Daughter, is no different.
Williams College was fortunate to have hosted two of the great figures in American chamber music Friday evening in a program of core masterpieces of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both Ani Kavafian and Mihae Lee, who play often together as a duo and as the Triton Trio, which includes Ms. Lee’s husband William Purvis, the great horn player, as well as in larger groups, have distinguished reputations for their work with new music. With their roots in the present day, they reach into the past with all the more conviction. Their performances of the classics are consistently deeply studied and thought through, original, and impeccably played. It is a joy to listen to the mere sound Ani Kavafian produces from the 1736 Muir McKenzie Stradivarius, always centered right on pitch and surrounded by a rich bloom which fans out into an amazing variety of color and nuance; and the intelligence with which she applies her virtuosity is of the highest order. In the three works on this evening’s program piano and violin are virtually equally matched, giving Ms. Lee full opportunity to use her musicality, insight, and strength to the fullest.