Otakar Ostrčil was a prominent Czech composer who has fallen into obscurity. His dates, 1879-1935, span a key moment in the history of Central Europe, for it was in 1918 that the Czech lands became part of the new country of Czechoslovakia, independent of Austrian rule. In the preceding decades, Czech writers and artists had often attempted to define a national identity for themselves, as can be heard in many works of Smetana and Dvořák.
We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas—some familiar, others forgotten—are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams. One of the best such works is Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges(which might be freely translated as “The Boy Who Meets Objects and Creatures that Magically Begin to Speak and Dance”), which has recently been blessed by two astounding new recordings (conducted by, respectively, Stéphane Denève and Mikko Franck).At the present site I have recently reviewed a very engaging Czech opera by Otakar Ostrčil, based on a quasi-folktale by Tolstoy, in which the Devil seeks to seduce three brothers into serving his own destructive ends.
The time-frame of “contemporary music” keeps expanding. “Modern music” was a term (and the name of an American music magazine) current from the 20’s through ‘40’s, but is still used to refer to music from the 1890’s on. After the war, we have the beginnings of “contemporary music” with Boulez, Carter, Stockhausen, the Darmstadt composers and the Cage followers who were busy decrying “modern music” as passé. Since the late sixties when twelve-tone music was periodically declared a dead-end in the pages of the Sunday New York Times and elsewhere, we have had “post-modern” music, which includes “new romanticism.” Tanglewood has had a “Contemporary Music” festival since 1961, so we can safely say that the “contemporary” era is at least 57 years old.
I am excited to be performing repertory for two pianos with the wonderful pianist and now colleague at Simon’s Rock, Manon Hutton-DeWys. We will be matching our trusty Steinway B (on the left in the picture) in Kellogg with a newly acquired Mason and Hamlin BB (on the right) to present great compositions that exploit the medium of piano duo, in sonority somewhere between solo piano and full orchestra. Our varied program includes Brahms’s Sonata, an alternate version of the great Piano Quintet in F minor; Debussy’s late, dramatic “En Blanc et Noir” composed during World War I, with poignant expressions of French patriotism; Stravinsky’s spare, neoclassical Sonata, and Copland’s joyful “Danzon Cubano.” We invite you to celebrate Labor Day weekend with us on Saturday, September 1 at 7:30.
The first two concerts this summer season by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra were among the best I have heard in several decades. The energy level was palpable. The intensity of the playing, particularly the strings, was a marvel. The two greatest challenges for the ensemble were Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and the Leonore Overture No. 3 of Beethoven.
At the risk of repeating myself, I must once again give my best praise to Aston Magna’s concert, “Dueling Violins, Genial Gambas,” on June 30 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington. Though I am not on the lookout for poor performances from anyone, I am continually amazed at the high level of the participating artists in this group. The style has become an easy, normal thing, speaking clearly to us centuries later in large part because of the ease these wonderful players show.
Without a doubt the most encouraging cultural development in the Berkshires in 2016 was the first season of the Berkshire Opera Festival, founded by Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman. The quality of the first production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, proved the promise of the endeavor to be solid reality.