Dima Slobodeniouk leads the BSO in Sibelius' Symphony No. 1. Photo Hilary Scott.

Sibelius Pivots to the Symphony

A graph showing the reputation of Sibelius’s symphonies in the 20th century would look like a fever chart. When he wrote his first symphony at the very end of the 19th century, the composer was still struggling for recognition, and it took another decade for his work to receive international attention. Once that happened, his reputation rose to that of a composer whose music held the greatest interest for orchestras and audiences during a period when the early modernists were generating more polarized responses.

Before TUNDI's performance of Tristan und Isolde at the Latchis Theatre.

An Immersive Tristan und Isolde, Performed to the Highest Standards at the Latchis Theatre, Brattleboro, Vermont, by TUNDI. Last performance Sunday, August 25, at 10 am.

This is, I think, the third alert of this sort I have sent out in my thirteen years of arts journalism. I have just come from one of the most extraordinary evenings I have experienced in many years of opera, and there is only one more chance to attend it, Sunday morning, August 26th, at 10 am at the Latchis Theater, 48 Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont. Even if you have something important scheduled, change it and be there!

Juho Puhjonen, Pianist

Rameau, Scriabin, Beethoven: Who Provided the Contrast? Juho Pohjonen, pianist, at Tannery Pond

Imaginative programming matched by imaginative performances marked a surprising and satisfying evening of solo piano music at Tannery Pond Concerts. There is a mini-vogue for Rameau’s keyboard music, originally written for harpsichord, but currently being performed on piano, offering virtuosi surprising opportunities to show off their chops. There are You Tube video performances by Grigory Sokolov, Alexandre Tharaud, Clément Lefebvre, and Kyu Yeon Kim. Playing harpsichord music on the piano is a long-standing practice, but with increased awareness of the originally intended instrument and its unpianistic characteristics (including razor-sharp attack, lack of graduated dynamics, ultra-transparent textures and absence of sustaining pedal) pianists have had to make strategic choices whether to emulate some of these traits or to ignore them and use the full resources of the modern piano to interpret the music in ways that would have been unimaginable to the composers. An interesting debate hinges on the question of whether this latter choice would have been unacceptable to the composers, or on the contrary, delightful. 

Elijah Alexander as Claudius and Kate Maccluggage in Mark St. Germain's Gertrude and Claudius at The Barrington Stage Company. Photo Daniel Rader.

Gertrude and Claudius at Barrington Stage Company

For some time now, there has been a tendency for directors and actors of Hamlet to treat the protagonist’s mother and uncle/stepfather with more tolerance than in the moralistic past. Shakespeare doesn’t oblige us to view them as outright villains or to see them—or the deceased King of Denmark—from Hamlet’s eyes, but that’s what has usually happened. In the late 1990s John Updike took this about as far as it can sensibly go in his novel, Gertrude and Claudius,

Composer Helen Grime

Two Premieres and Revival of a Standard and a Forgotten Charmer at Tanglewood: Asbury, Aspinall, and Farrell Conducting the TMC Orchestra; Intimacies of O’Keefe and Stieglitz by Kevin Puts Premiered by the BSO under Nelsons

My own Tanglewood season began with this solid program in Seiji Ozawa Hall: a neglected program piece by an early 20th century composer, once more famous than he is today because of two isolated tone poems, the premiere of a substantial new work by a prominent former TMC Fellow, and a fresh look at an over-familiar symphony—the warhorse of all warhorses, some might say—by one of the canonical 19th century composers.

Stefan Jackiw and Jeremy Denk play Ives' Violin Sonatas at Ozawa Hall. Photo. Hilary Scott.

Ives Revealed: the four Violin and Piano Sonatas, along with Some Hymns used in the Sonatas

As complex as they are on the page, Ives’s violin sonatas need powerfully imaginative interpretations to come fully alive, ones finely attuned to the composer’s unique sensibility, background, and musical idiom, ready to embody a spirit of exploration, experimentation, and even improvisation. Performances can err on the side of a traditional, European (i.e. Brahmsian) approach, such as the recording by Rafael Druian and John Simms, made in the ‘50’s, a streamlined modernist approach e.g. Paul Zukovsky and Gilbert Kalish, from the ‘60’s, a showy, virtuosic approach, like that of Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa from 2011; or they can find a balance among these that incorporates American vernacular fiddling traditions, like Gregory Fulkerson and Robert Shannon from 1989. All of this is required if these works are to cohere and succeed in communicating their emotional contents to an audience.

Twelfth Night 2019. Bella Merlin, Gregory Boover, Miles Anderson, and Steven Barkhimer. Photo Daniel Rader.

A Singer’s Notes 149: Twelfth Night or What You Will at Shakespeare and Company—Not to be missed! Closing August 4th!

Music and words, words and music. In director Allyn Burrows’ Twelfth Night at Shakespeare and Company, words and music received full support from the text and from the melodies. One reason for this play’s greatness is a simple one—many characters, many situations. The first encouragement in this superb production is its near constant use of music. New music, old music, all used with joy. Also that occasional joy which comes from sadness.

Nelsons and Thibaudet play Gershwin.

Subtlety in the Shed: an Oxymoron? Nelsons and the BSO play Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Gershwin, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet

After the sparkling performance of George Gershwin’s little gem of variations on one of his most popular songs, an audience member asked her husband “Do you want to stay after intermission?” Certainly the atmosphere had been more that of a Pops concert with hearty applause after the first movement of the concerto as well as an ovation at the end; but at that moment it struck me that the ears that savored the pleasures of Gershwin might not relish the kaleidoscopic astringencies of Stravinsky. The much less enthusiastic audience reception for the ballet score affirmed this, despite a performance that capably revealed the colors and shapes of this astonishing breakthrough work.

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