This concert was without a doubt one of the great events of the season, whether in Boston or New York, and certainly a high point in the BSO’s unexpectedly patchy year, at least as far as guest conductors were concerned, which seemed almost miraculous on paper, given the short notice allowed by James Levine’s final health setback, but in practice greatly curtailed by the cancellation of some the most distinguished conductors. Riccardo Chailly’s coronary ailment forced him to cancel his two concerts and effectively put him out of the running for the empty music directorship. Andris Nelsons rather strangely decided to go on paternal leave barely more than a month before his scheduled concert. Ill-health made it necessary for Kurt Masur, one of the great interpreters of the Missa Solemnis, to back out of his engagement while already in rehearsal. It was, to say the least, reassuring to find Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing as scheduled with violinist Leila Josefowicz in an advanced stage of expectancy, much to the delight of her many fans in the audience.
Such a broad range of small detail, an infinite diversity of subtle variations in tone, attack, dynamics etc., more than is practical even for a composer to write into a score, is possible, even common on the string instruments, especially the violin, and it seems to be much easier to find violinists capable of nuanced playing than any other instrument, flute, horn, oboe, for example, though maybe not piano, though these instruments are not directly comparable. The string quartet then presents so many musical possibilities not to mention possible combinations of musical personalities, for both the performer and composer, and such opportunities for experimentation with the genre’s huge density of detail, relative speed of composition, and fantastic possibilities at the frontiers of musical sound. It is easy too to compare a symphonist’s writing string quartets to a painter’s drawing of finished studies, and this tradition continues, even if new symphonies and operas are relatively rare, as we see here in this program which includes the newish work by Gordon Kerry whose pieces, like Ian Munro’s last year, will feature in most of this year’s chamber music concert tours organized by Musica Viva.
As The Berkshire Review has grown, we have developed certain international centers, where our writers either live or often return. Our coverage in these locations will continue to grow and become more comprehensive with time, and others will be added to them. But these are not all, you will find reports from Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, Virginia, Turkey, and Poland. If you are travelling or looking for a place to settle, you will find this list of our local “portals” helpful.
I’m sitting now in the late sunlight, looking at my cat’s ear. A translucent point it is with its hairs shining gold. It is sweet, and I am being sentimental. That which is sentimental is always ordinary in some way. Sentimentality is a kind of comfort. I once overheard the great Bernard Haitink say in a rehearsal “What is wrong with sentimentality anyway?” This from a conductor sometimes thought of as sober and straight-laced. There is nothing so remarkable about a cat’s ear, but a cat’s ear in the sunlight can seem something from a better world. I had a feeling like this when the bells started to play in The Knights’ recent performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. We had already heard the old tune several times, and then we heard it with bells. You know the place. The performance was so honest and utterly straight that I heard the jangling as new minted. The old tune was glowing. I never really noticed the bells before; I never really heard them. There is such risk in these few bars. But this is a piece which attains to simplicity and achieves it, and they simply were there. No big event-just the simple sublime, and no other composer hears this better than Aaron Copland. ‘Tis the gift to be simple.
The chamber music fairy can touch any group anywhere, it seems, whether or not they have masses of recordings with prestigious labels, or a ‘high profile’ (in fact I don’t think she even reads the newspaper or listens to recordings). Even so, the Tinalley String Quartet knows their music backward and forward, as if there were no phrase or note they hadn’t rehearsed, discussed or thought about, or just intuitively understood on the moment. They are a very tight group, the sum total of their sound shows care and understanding, as if their feel for and ideas of the music span it vertically, horizontally and diagonally on any diagonal the composer cares to involve, particularly so in the Bach Art of Fugue pieces and the fugal last movement of the Haydn quartet. The close acoustic of the room only reveals the nuanced detail in their ensemble sound and the unique colors and textures of their group’s voice, very sonorous and woody, rounded and well seasoned, rich, but one where all the instruments are clear and yet combine into something greater than the sum of its parts. The favorable acoustic of the smallish room helps, and I suspect chamber music, especially the string quartet, often comes across more strident in tone than the ideal intentions of the artists when played in a larger concert hall shared with orchestras, but a small room like the Utzon Room would only reveal flaws or empty spaces in an inferior group or a less thoughtful and personal interpretation. Here the room was merely complementary, as if just subtly lifting something already there. It was a remarkable mature performance for any group, let alone one so young (founded in 2003 at the University of Melbourne) with musicians as young as they are (all in their late 20s or 30s), but one isn’t really aware of such mundane temporal qualities when they play.
With the Evening Star just about to set, hanging a little above a Harbour Bridge pylon, and, by the second interval, a waning gibbous moon rising through a back-lit bank of cloud, so the Sydney season of the Australian Ballet opens, with three new short ballets. They cover a broad range, like three points of a very large triangle, showing some of the versatility of the company. The Narrative of Nothing as the name implies is an abstract ballet, mostly. The Australian Ballet along with the BBC and the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra, has commissioned from Australian composer Brett Dean “Fire Music“, a new score specially for this ballet, and the music and lighting contribute almost as major a part as the dancing.
What does it matter what you say about buildings? Is it possible to be fascinated by a building without thinking it very good, or even without knowing whether it is good or not? I’m not talking about the architectural equivalent of a guilty pleasure, a treat which would have to be triple-Z grade lousy indeed to cause genuine shame in a time in which you can watch Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Cinemathèque Française. I’m talking of course about the Opéra Bastille, a building which this sentence will not even attempt to sum up.
What does it matter what you say about buildings? Est-ce qu’il existent des bâtiments mauvais ou médiocres qui nous fascinent quand-même? Je ne parle pas des “guilty pleasures,” une tendance devenue si quotidienne qu’on peut voir Plan 9 from Outer Space à la Cinémathèque Française. Je parle, bien sûr, de l’Opéra Bastille, une édifice qui résiste à chaque tentative de la décrire ainsi.