We are already well into the series of performances of Shakespeare’s early masterpiece, Richard II. The only one of his plays to have been written entirely in verse, it has long been treasured for the poetic beauty of its sad tale of a failed monarch. As rich as this stream in the play is, Shakespeare never neglected the toughness of the genre of history plays he helped to create.
he announcement of this concert at St. James Place came as a very pleasant surprise. There’s no need to wait until June to hear an Aston Magna Concert! And that is certainly a event much-anticipated among early music lovers and Berkshire residents. Aston Magna regulars, Daniel Stepner, baroque violin, Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba, Peter Sykes, harpsichord, and Andrea LeBlanc, baroque flute, will play excerpts from a central work by J. S. Bach, A Musical Offering, covering the basic styles of composition contained within it: canons, a fugue (ricercare), and a trio sonata, as well as sonatas—respectively for viola da gamba and violin, flute, and violin—by Buxtehude, Handel, and C. P. E. Bach. The selection from the Offering is especially sympathetic to the other works on the program, with the simpler ricercare (the one Bach was able to improvise on the spot, when Frederick the Great presented him with his theme and the challenge to write a fugue on it) and the Trio Sonata.
After the stunning concert with Simon Rattle leading the Berliner Philharmoniker at Boston’s Symphony Hall—Pierre Boulez’s scintillating Éclat followed (without intermission) by Mahler’s black sheep Symphony No. 7—I couldn’t stop shaking. There’s a lot of good music in Boston, but this was different—on a whole other level. And the audience knew it, felt it. Wasn’t it just what we needed to hear after the bruising election? People were not only cheering but weeping and hugging each other.
The distinguished senior curator of European paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Ronni Baer, has put together a compelling and instructive exhibition of 17th-century Dutch art (mostly oil painting) that focusses on complex layers of social class (Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, through January 18; which then reopens on February 20 for three months at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO). There isn’t a painting in the show without interest, including a heaping handful of out-and-out masterpieces: early Rembrandt, Hals (in both intimate and heroic—or mock heroic—mode), Ruysdael (those bleaching fields near Haarlem under an enormous cloud-filled sky), de Hooch (that radiant courtyard; that dim geometrical interior), Ter Borch (those glittering satins; that velvety cow suspiciously eyeing a nearby axe), a Van Dyck, and a crisp, penetrating Thomas de Keyser portrait of the Dutch statesman, poet, and musician Constantijn Huygens, father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered the rings of Saturn—a big discovery for me.
There have been a number of excellent reviews of this exhibit, especially Holland Cotter’s early piece of August 27 in The New York Times. We still have several months to profit from “Made in the Americas.” My comments are prompted by my deep gratitude as a non-specialist for an exhibition that reinforces a new paradigm of art historical and critical thinking, even as it continues a tradition of a major museum able to bring an eye-popping collection of exquisite works heretofore not seen together. Dennis Carr has formed an intellectually rich exploration of global communication vital to the early modern era. Via a wide display of different media—textiles, furniture, metalwork, painting, ceramics, and inlay—we explore the relationship among the cultures of the Americas as the crossroads of Europe and Asia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
This spring has been teeming with a dizzying profusion of riches for the lover of early music in the Northeast. In April Carnegie Hall launched “Before Bach,” a month-long festival of Renaissance and Baroque music performed by the the most admired international groups and soloists in the field. Since this was an “on” year for The Boston Early Music Festival, an equally distinguished group of regulars and visitors just now packed about the same amount of musical activity into a week, supplemented by hosts of mostly outstanding comprimarii in its Fringe. This coming weekend BEMF’s western coda, consisting of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and his Orfeo, both performed in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, will overlap with the first weekend of one of the oldest festivals of early music, Aston Magna.