Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.
Good-bye, intrepid mentor: girl from the South, great sense of humor, ears which heard better than God, straight talker, full of encouragement, indefatigable, for us who knew her, eternal. An American singer who with her frequent counterpart, Norman Treigle, showed the world that we Yanks could sing. Miss Curtin never sang a phrase that wasn’t dramatic. Many great artists have come and gone in our beloved Tanglewood family, but the very air is tinged with Phyllis Curtin.
Scholars, musicians, and audiences, as they explore the music of the first half of the seventeenth century, keep coming back to the giant figure of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), just as in later periods they tend to orbit J. S. Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky. In one respect this is justified by the quality and originality of Monteverdi’s music. In others we must acknowledge our fragmentary and disproportionate understanding of the music of all times and places, realizing that we should really know more of the music of Matthiesen, Graupner, and Hasse, C. P. E. Bach, Cherubini, and Scriabin, to name only a few. In the present case, Erin Headley justifiably points out that much of the work of two of the other important composers in this program, Luigi Rossi and Marco Marazzoli, has been hidden away in the Vatican Library—in manuscript, not in printed editions, the form in which Monteverdi purposely circulated and preserved his work.
Oldcastle Theatre’s production of The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow, and directed by Nathan Stith, turned Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film into something close to pure farce. A tiny cast of four actors, a few chairs, and we were off to the races. The two clowns, Patrick Ellison Shea and Jim Staudt, were far more than comics. Each turned himself inside out multiple times, portraying every kind of figure, from villain to spouse. I saw an evening performance, and it was electric with energy—this after they had already cut loose in an afternoon matinee. The play seemed entirely and wonderfully about virtuosity.
When I try to imagine how Lee Elman and Albert Fuller felt when they founded the Aston Magna Music Festival in 1972, I find myself somewhat awestruck. That was less than twenty years away from the very beginnings of the Early Music movement in the mid-1950s. When the invaluable Pristine Classical download site form historical recordings recently released Jascha Horenstein’s 1954 recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, a noted by Mischa Horenstein observed that the orchestra, assembled ad hoc in Vienna by Horenstein himself, included two great lights of historical performance, Nicolaus Harnoncourt, playing the viola da gamba, and Paul Angerer, playing viola solo, violino piccolo, harpsichord, and second recorder, in true Early Music style.
The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer’s most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt’s output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.