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.
It’s good news that somebody, let alone a director of Martin Scorsese’s calibre, has finally recognized the highly cinematic creepiness of the Boston Harbour Islands. The opening scenes of Shutter Island reminded me of school excursions to those islands, which have the feel of a mid-ocean archipelago, rather than land sheltered by a harbour. Thankfully, no school excursion ever went as badly as the one on the film. I always got off the island.
Cosi Fan Futte is an opera I have sung often so I looked forward to going to The Dangerous Liaisons that Shakespeare and Co. has had up for some time now. The brittleness of the spoken play and the precipitous action constantly crowding scene into scene requires exquisite skill from the actors in this play. Mozart’s opera seems expansive and almost sweet next to it. Making the epistolary prose of Laclos into a working drama of reasonable length is not an easy task. The action has an awful purity which is only softened at the very end and given an almost romantic turn as the true lovers die in close succession.
Gil Rose is best known for his leadership of two high-profile Boston organizations, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), one of the major supporters of contemporary music in America, and Opera Boston, which specializes in musically outstanding performances of operatic masterpieces which have been neglected by the mainstream houses. I know I’ll be eternally grateful to him and Opera Boston for my first opportunity to see Weber’s Die Freischütz, universally regarded as a seminal work in the history of opera and a great one, but rarely performed today. Just last year there were Shostakovich’s The Nose, and Rossini’s Tancredi, and now Opera Boston’s first commission of a new opera, Zhou Long’s Madame White Snake.
Before getting into the program in detail, it’s worth noting that here again the BSO and New York Philharmonic programs overlap. While Levine in the Berg Three Pieces is returning to repertoire with which he has been closely associated for many years—music inspired by the composer of the main work, Gustav Mahler—Gilbert approached the same work as part of his ongoing exploration of the Second Vienna School, which has enriched his programming throughout the year, and, I’m sure, will continue throughout his career.
Jonathan Van Allen’s family and staff had no time to grieve. The day after he was killed in an early morning, one-car accident they had to put on an elegant wedding reception at a restaurant that would soon be Jonathan’s third in South Berkshire County.
1939 must have been the year neoclassic front ranks gave up on William Walton. Here was the “English Stravinsky”, who had burst forth with silvery elbow-wit in “Facade” and scandalized church officials in “Belshazzar’s Feast.” More recently, his First Symphony had transformed telegraphic rhythm into sheer motorized power, gleaming and heartless. (only the finale, composed late and omitted at the premiere, had hinted at something more sensual and cinematic) The earlier Viola Concerto had parsed-out like the cleanest Hindemith, moving because of its beauty, but bereft of the senses.
Leon Botstein’s performance of Beethoven’s Eroica was one of transcendent clarity, color, and musical balance. I believe the members of the American Symphony Orchestra were aware of how well they played, and how convincingly Mr. Botstein’s interpretation was executed.