Emerson String Quartet with guest clarinetist David Shifrin, Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Tuesday July 6 at 8 pm

For many reasons, Mozart is one of the most difficult composers for today’s performers to encounter. Historically, he occupies an intermediate zone between Early Music and mainstream performance practices, and today’s musicians have a wide range of performing styles from which to choose, from those passed on by traditional conservatory teachers and established mainstream performers, to the spectrum of historically informed practices exemplified by Dutch, German, English, and even American ‘schools,’ and extending to hybrids of the two. This counts enormously in Mozart, whose sensitive, vocal-based melodies and elegantly complex textures reveal every strength and weakness of a chosen performing style with spectacular clarity. This is not to say that anyone can claim a ‘correct’ choice; writers have long ago established that the notion of ‘authenticity’ is a chimera. The real issue is how effectively and convincingly a performing style can convey the heart and soul of the music to a modern audience.

Tanglewood: an updated 2010 Season Preview, and a Backwards Look at 2009 – James Levine not to appear.

The news I have been expecting has now officially arrived:

James Levine will withdraw from his concerts with the BSO and Tanglewood Music Center due to further recuperation time needed after recent back surgery.

Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the BSO opening night performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on July 9, and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem on July 16, as well as the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 on July 17.

Christoph von Dohnányi will conduct the staged Tanglewood Music Center Production of Strauss’s Ariadne Auf Naxos on August 1 And 2.

Johannes Debus will have his BSO Debut, conudctin Mozart’s The Abduction From Seraglio on July 23

Hans Graf will lead the BSO in program of marches, waltzes, and polkas by the Strauss Family on July 25 .

An announcement about substitute conductor for program of Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong on July 31 will be forthcoming.

These and other changes have been entered in the season schedule below.

What can one say to this? I left my opening sentence as it was, because Maestro Levine’s cancellations are now routine. I wrote a defense of the Maestro back in February, and that still stands. Levine has improved the orchestra, organized some excellent programs, and conducted some brilliant performances, along with some mediocre ones. There is nothing sadder than being unable to work, especially if it is an artistic vocation to which one is devoted, and Mr. Levine’s health may well be out of his control, but he has disappointed his audiences and his TMC students for too long. He has missed 60% of his BSO engagements this past season, and now there is more. We don’t know what to expect next season, either at the BSO or at the Met, where Levine was to inaugurate a much-publicized new Ring Cycle. There is enough evidence for us to conclude that he is truly physically incapable of pursuing the agenda he has taken up at both institutions. It is time for him to cut back his commitments to the point where he can give his best to his public and his students on a reliable, if not consistent basis.

Selig sind die Toten – What Schütz Taught Brahms

Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)

Juilliard String Quartet play Haydn Op. 20 at Tanglewood

If this review is extremely brief, it is not intended as disrespect for either the composer or the illustrious Juilliard String Quartet. I was expecting a feast of some of my very favorite music, but it turned out to be a total disappointment. In their earlier life the Juiliard used to play with astringent timbres and an analytical style, which arose from their pioneering work with the quartets of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Béla Bartôk and other modern composers.

Opening Night at Tanglewood: Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens— Boston Symphony Orchestra

An hour before Part I of Les Troyens was to begin, I found myself wandering peacefully and somewhat aimlessly among the trees. The grounds were still unpopulated and quiet, providing an exceptionally favorable atmosphere for music. The first two acts of Berlioz’ epic masterpiece which awaited us are hardly what one would call contemplative music, but a contemplative mood seemed the right preparation for the violent, burning sweep of Berlioz’ romantic tableaux of the fall of Troy. It gave me an hour of so to forget whatever baggage I had brought with me, which amounted to some scepticism as to whether a Tanglewood reprise of the massive, impressive, but flawed effort of late April and early May would make much of a difference.

Tanglewood Festival Retrospective 2007

I’ve already said much more than I ever wanted to about the state of the Tanglewood Festival and the pointless discussion stirred up by a few articles and editorials in the Berkshire Eagle—both in Berkshire Fine Arts and our current Commentary. Since the festival faces no real crisis either in finances or attendance, what matters is the music. This is James Levine’s fourth season as music director of the Boston Symphony. The various difficulties arising from his intense working methods, his health, and, I believe, the evolution of his own musicianship are now in the past. The orchestra and Tanglewood now form a larger part of his commitments. The orchestra now play better than they have in years, consistently on a very high level for Mr. Levine and for guest conductors as well. He conducted more BSO concerts than in previous summers, and he is thoroughly involved with the Tanglewood Music Center. Not every one of Levine’s interpretations may strike every listener as equally compelling, but I know of no one who shows such a passion for music in everything he does. His enthusiasm and high standards have made a most definite impression on Tanglewood, and now one can go there in the expectation of hearing interesting, if largely conservative programs played by the Boston Symphony at the top of their form, not to mention the superb TMC Orchestra and Opera Fellows, soloists and other extras which are making an appearance, most notably the series of world-class early music and historical instrument groups.

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