It gladdens my heart to confirm that Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Mermaid is no longer a “rescue” known only to early twentieth century enthusiasts panning for neglected musical gold. It’s too good for a fate like that. There are 11 modern versions of this work now on Naxos’s streaming site, not to mention live performances on YouTube, most of them, like this one, quite fine. The piece has arrived. It’s a fitting outcome for music which premiered in 1905 on the same program as Arnold Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande and was actually preferred by the audience.
The Boston Symphony played a few brilliant concerts in the shed in this anniversary year — not least Charles Dutoit’s two days of Berlioz, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, but the real excitement came from Ozawa Hall, as the TMC Fellows played with the full excitement of youth in a series of demanding concerts, all weighted towards the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in consistently stimulating and coherent programs, divided between the regular TMC schedule and the Festival of Contemporary Music. This was, in addition, the most satisfying FCM since the Elliott Carter Tribute, because the selection of composers not only had its own coherence in Oliver Knussen’s experience and taste
These last weeks there was French music everywhere. An excellent program of alternating Debussy and Messiaen songs at Tanglewood with the Tanglewood Fellows, William Bolcom and Joan Morris at Mohawk Trail Concerts, and a Bastille Day performance of Tartuffe the Imposter at Shakespeare and Company. A lot of ink has been spilled describing, defining, perhaps destroying what is called “French style.” Bad pedagogy of this sort tries to get you to do something less than what you would normally do with a phrase if it were not French music. There is much pontificating about accuracy in the pronouncing of the language. French singers that I have known seem much more concerned with the flow of the language and the connectedness of it. Because a piece of music is easy on the ear does not mean it is less affecting for the heart.
Hence my attendance began at 8.12 when I sat down to a 7-minute performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1947 A Survivor from Warsaw, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and narrated by Tony-Award winner Shuler Hensley. Thomas led the San Francisco Symphony in a performance of precision and assurance, and the men of the Symphony Chorus sang out powerfully. Hensley was unhappily over-miked at the start. I sensed that someone dialed down his volume perhaps two thirds of the way through, which restored some measure of balance to the mix, but I wish there had additionally been a way to dial down some of Hensley’s overt emotionality.
The programming at Tannery Pond always surprises, straying as it does from four-square convention. Jennifer Frautschi, Eric Ruske, and Pedja Muzijevic each has an impressive international resume, and they chose a fascinating mix of Beethoven, Schoenberg, Liszt, Czerny, and Cage to prepare us for the great Brahms Trio.
Boston is full of excellent musicians who give concerts in various configurations of established chamber music groups, early and new music groups, and orchestras of various kinds other than the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and of course in solo recital. For musical performance and presentation of a great range of music, we are blessed in Boston. In early October I attended my first concert by the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, playing at the Goethe Institute on Beacon Street, where the large high-ceilinged double parlor makes a great venue for music, with a rich, resonant, vivid sound right to the back, though with small chairs all on one level and on this occasion a packed house, it was hard to see.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.