One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).
As always, I seek some unifying subtext for the offerings, and this year the quest was, at face value, quite simple: birds. An outdoor avian sculpture and a birder challenge in the program booklets left no doubt of the “theme” intended. However, the degree of suggestion varied from the most obvious (Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie) to the surreal (Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd) and merely suggestive in the others. Rossini’s rarely performed dramatic comedy, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) was the most interesting production this season. While I would never concur with Toscanini’s equating Rossini’s talent to that of Mozart (in quality and not merely in youthful quantity), the mix of comedy and high drama certainly had pretensions to some of Mozart’s great operatic moments. Perhaps, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte served as models for the young composer; he even manages some near literal quotes of these works in the second act.
It is perhaps best to begin this review with a word of practical advice. This concert was sold out. The hall at Camphill Ghent is rather small. Seating is general. So for future events, you would do well to buy your tickets early and to arrive early. But that should be no hardship. It will give you all the more opportunity to meet members of the Camphill Ghent community and others who live in the area, and that can only add to the pleasure of the concert. As far as seating goes, all the instruments in this program, with their wide but compatible range of color and dynamics came through with clarity, warmth, and strength, and I got the impression that that obtains in every part of this intimate space.
The Boston Lyric Opera has left its long-time, unsatisfactory home in Boston’s Shubert Theater. This season each production will be mounted in a different space, and the Boston Globe reports that BLO has joined some other local theatrical groups to bid for ongoing use of the fine Colonial Theater (now owned by Emerson College) when it is restored and reopens in a year or so—seems an outcome to be wished for. Meanwhile, BLO has started its current season with Bizet’s Carmen in the Opera House on Washington Street, once home to Sarah Caldwell’s highly creative Opera Company of Boston, in recent years home of the Boston Ballet and site of a never-ending stream of very popular traveling Broadway musical productions. The Opera House is a grand space with good acoustics, a broad stage, sizeable orchestra pit, and adequate lobby space on two levels. It is good to see and hear opera staged here once again.
A relatively new chamber music series in our area, The Concerts at Camphill Ghent, extending through the rather sparse autumn through spring months, has just recently come to my attention, and it looks well worth a season subscription. Every concert is compelling, and they all fit together as a whole. Clearly some strong consideration has gone into the selection of both the music and the musicians. The series was founded and is managed by a musician, the outstanding pianist, Gili Melamed-Lev, who oversees the programming and participates extensively herself. This is by no means exceptional in itself, but the particular stamp she has put on it stands out.
Patrick Dougherty has been making popular installations over a 30-year career in the tradition of Earthworks. Raised and educated in North Carolina (he resides in Chapel Hill), he began with a hand-crafted house in the 1970’s and a decade later was showing human stick figures positioned or standing in chairs. His first works were displayed in art galleries and at art centers before he became engaged with architectural follies that are often massive structures that leap from tree to tree, cover facades of buildings, or stand as independent houses or similarly monumental forms. His output in the past decade numbers nine to ten installations a year—each occupying about three weeks of uninterrupted effort. As well as the hundreds of sculptures in the United States, his work has been enthusiastically received internationally in almost every country in Western Europe as well as Japan and South Korea.