Bach's Christmas Oratorio

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, December 23, 2010
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Dec. 24

While Handel's Messiah rightly holds its place as this country's classical musical soundtrack for the holiday season (quibble if you will about its Easter message;  there's nothing wrong with talking about Easter at Christmas - just ask Bach!), it's J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio that rings through concert halls throughout Europe at this time of the year.

The six cantatas that make up the Christmas Oratorio, meant to be performed on six separate days throughout the liturgical Christmas season, tell the Christmas story as only Bach could.  With a combination of individual and communal perspective on both the joyful and meditative aspects of the season, it's a piece that always offers performers the chance to find new perspectives, angles, and ways of expressing eternal thoughts and feelings.

If you'd like to hear all six part of the Christmas Oratorio, in a terrific performance led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, feel free to listen to them below.

Part 1 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 2 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 3 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 4 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 5 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Part 6 of the Christmas Oratorio (translation)

Rick Steves’ European Christmas

Monday, November 19, 2012
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The Renewal and Reflection of Eternal Echoes

By James David Jacobs   |   Monday, September 17, 2012
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Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot
Violinist Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot (photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco, courtesy of Sony Masterworks)

The Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and extending through Yom Kippur, is a time of celebration, reflection, and renewal. This year those qualities are deepened through the release of Eternal Echoes - Songs and Dances for the Soul on Sony Classical.

Three living legends came together to create Eternal Echoes: the renowned classical violinist Itzhak Perlman; Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, who keeps the ancient cantorial tradition alive from his pulpit at Manhattan's Park East Synagogue; and Hankus Netsky, a pioneer in the revival of klezmer music. Their musical common ground finds its roots in the Ashkenazi tradition, the Jewish culture of Central and Eastern Europe.

Full schedule of features:

A Dudele

Shoyfer Shel Moshiakh

Romanian Doyne



Like Yiddish, the language common amongst the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, the musical language of the Ashkenazi is a fusion of modern European and ancient Middle Eastern styles. It expresses the full range of human emotions, from exuberant joy to deep introspection to heart-wrenching sorrow.

Those emotions come through in the music the same way they exist in life itself, occupying the same space almost simultaneously: the harmonies switch constantly from minor to major, the rhythms from straightforward to syncopated, and a tune that starts out slow and sad is likely to end fast and happy.
As Hankus Netsky, the founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Contemporary Improvisation Chair at the New England Conservatory explains, "I liken it to the blues. When Jews prayed, they cried. We have a word, krehts, meaning to groan - like the blues have a moan or a wail. The Jews have a sobbing kind of feeling, even when they're happy. That's why this music is universal."

Eternal Echoes orchestra

Hankus Netsky and ensemble at the Eternal Echoes recording session (photo by Antonio Oliart Ros)

You’ll hear that on Eternal Echoes, which brings in yet another dimension: a tune that starts out with a solemn prayer frequently ends in a joyous dance. While many traditional cantorial melodies and klezmer dance tunes have common folk sources, the connection between them has never before been made this explicit.

Netsky, the album's musical director, freely admits that bringing together different strains of Jewish music is an "agenda" of his and is in line with his idea that klezmer is not just a re-creation of music from the past, but a "living tradition."

Join me for conversations with Itzhak Perlman and Hankus Netsky, along with excerpts from Eternal Echoes, all this week on Classical New England. See the schedule and listen on-demand above, and to purchase Eternal Echoes, visit ArkivMusic.

In Concert: Lang Lang and the New York Philharmonic

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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(image of Lang Lang by Detlef Schneider, courtesy of the artist)

One of China's most prominent musicians and the New York Philharmonic celebrate the Year of the Dragon. Join Classical New England this evening at 8pm.

Pianist Lang Lang has come to represent the surging growth of classical music in China. A hero to millions of his countrymen, he performed last night at Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic and conductor Long Yu, artistic director and chief conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, music director of the Shanghai and Guanzhou Symphony Orchestras, and artistic director of the Beijing Music Festival. They were joined by New York Philharmonic Principal Oboist Liang Wang, bamboo flute soloist Junqiao Tang, and the Quintessenso Mongolian Children's Choir.

On the program:

Li Huanzhi: Spring Festival Overture
Bao Yuankai: China Air Suite
Traditional, orch. Zou Ye: Mongolian Folk Song Suite
Chen Qigang: Extase for oboe and orchestra
Zhou Chenglong: Raise the Red Lantern
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major

Meet New York Philharmonic Principal Oboist Liang Wang:

New Year's Day with Boston Baroque, from Sanders Theatre

Friday, December 30, 2011
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Boston Baroque's New Year's concerts have become a cherished tradition, and now Classical New England brings you the New Year's Day for 2012 from Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.

Martin Pearlman, founder and director of Boston Baroque, conducts a concert that features music by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and Corelli, with stellar soloists to bring the music to life.

To hear the program, click on "Listen" above.

On the program:

Arcangelo Corelli - Concerto Grosso in C Major, op.6, no.10

J.S. Bach - Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
Christina Day Martinson and Julie Leven, violins

G.F. Handel - Concerto for Harp in B-flat, Op. 4, No. 6
Barbara Poeschl-Edrich, harp

Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto in A minor for sopranino recorder, RV 445
Aldo Abreu, recorder

Antonio Vivaldi - Motet: Nulla in mundo pax sincera
Mary Wilson, soprano

Program Notes:

In the opera Giulio Cesare and in the oratorio Saul, Handel calls for a harp to lend its color to special dramatic moments. But it is in the "pure music" of his concerto that the harp shines as a virtuosic solo instrument. The pedal mechanism on the modern harp allows the player to raise and lower notes to create sharps and flats. In Handel's time, there was no such mechanism, yet the music of the day required chromatic notes and changes of key. To accomplish this, the triple harp—similar to what became known as the Welsh harp—used three rows of strings. The outer two rows, one played by the right hand, the other by the left, generally had the natural notes, equivalent to the white keys on the piano. Running down the middle was a third row of strings containing the chromatic notes, equivalent to the black keys on the piano. The sharps or flats could thus be played by either hand reaching to the inside.

Barbara Poeschl-Edrich, who now teaches harp at Boston University, studied the Baroque harp while a student in the Historical Performance Department at BU, the program in which Boston Baroque is in residence. She has performed on Baroque harp with Boston Baroque, the Boston Camerata, Handel and Haydn Society, and other ensembles. As a modern harpist, she has played with the Boston Symphony and was a soloist in an orchestral work written by Martin Pearlman.

Mary Wilson has become a favorite of Boston Baroque audiences, having performed with us in operas and in concert, including a stunning appearance in Boston Baroque's concert at the Casals Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Of her appearance this past March in our concert of "Jewels and Discoveries," the Hub Review wrote, "Ms. Wilson's voice is just about perfect for Handel—her tone is ripe with sun, and her phrasings so flexible they seem to almost ripple…"

New Year's Day from Vienna, 2013

Thursday, December 29, 2011
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Musikverein, ViennaThe Vienna Philharmonic continues a cherished tradition by starting 2013 with waltzes, marches, and more at the Musikverein in Vienna.

Tracing its roots back to 1939 and informed by the legacy of a special relationship with Johann Strauss, Jr., the New Year's Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic features an unmatchable grace and buoyancy in music by Strauss and others.

Johann Strauss, Jr., performed with the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1873, and several performances followed over the next five years.  But it wasn't until 1925, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Strauss's birth, that the Vienna Philharmonic fully embraced the composer's music. 

In 1929, Clemens Krauss conducted a concert made up entirely of The Waltz King's music, and the tradition was sealed.

Franz Welser-Most

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst (photo by Roger Mastroiann) 

The guest conductor for 2013 is Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst, General Music Director of the Vienna State Opera and Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Welser-Möst leads his second New Year's Day concert.  He previously conducted the 2011 New Year's Day concert, and his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic was in 1998. 

Here is the program for the 2013 New Year's Day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic:

Josef Strauss: The Soubrette, Fast Polka, op. 109
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Kiss Waltz, op. 400
Josef Strauss: Theater Quadrille, op. 213
Johann Strauss, Jr.: From the Mountains, Waltz, op. 292
Franz von Suppé: Overture to the Operetta "Light Cavalry"

Josef Strauss: Music of the Spheres, Waltz, op. 235
Josef Strauss: The Spinstress, Polka française, op. 192
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Act III of the Romantic Opera "Lohengrin", WWV 75
Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr.: In Confidence, Polka mazur, op. 15
Josef Strauss: Hesperus’ Paths, Waltz, op. 279
Josef Strauss: The Runners, Fast Polka, op. 237
Joseph Lanner: Styrian Dances, op. 165
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Melodies Quadrille, op.112
Giuseppe Verdi: Prestissimo from the Ballet Music in Act III of the Opera "Don Carlo"
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Where the Lemon Trees Bloom, Waltz, op. 364
Johann Strauss, Sr.: Memories of Ernst or The Carnival of Venice, Fantasy, op. 126

New Year's Day at 11am and 5pm on Classical New England.

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Brian McCreath Brian McCreath


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