Live Performances

Cirque Du Soleil: Flowers in the Desert

Monday, June 4, 2012
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The Berlin Philharmonic

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, May 4, 2011
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The Berliner Philharmoniker is an orchestra that’s regularly referred to as the Best in the World. Now, the idea of judging orchestras is, to me, nonsensical. Once we’re talking about a certain level of highly trained musicians with a substantial track record of performances and recordings, whether those musicians are in London, Chicago, Tokyo, or Boston, we can be sure that we’re past technical challenges of pulling off a performance and into the realm of hearing some sort of creation of an artistic vision.

That said, my experience is that there really is something special about the Berlin Philharmonic. It’s partly based on history, but when you see the orchestra in concert (whether in person or via their superb Digital Concert Hall), you’ll see that tradition and legacy are only a small part of the picture. It’s a young orchestra, with dynamic players from in every position.

You can learn quite a bit more about the orchestra and the reasons behind its consistently terrific performances in a recent blog post by New England Conservatory President Tony Woodcock.

One aspect of the Berlin Philharmonic I think we in Boston can relate to is the orchestra’s relationship to its concert hall. A great concert hall isn’t necessarily required to cultivate a great orchestra (just look at the histories of the major orchestras in Chicago, Philadelphia, and London, just as a start), but it can really help. Symphony Hall in Boston very directly shapes the particularly gorgeous sounds of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and so it is in Berlin. The Philharmonie has allowed the Berlin Philharmonic to work regularly in a space that encourages in its musicians that subtle form of non-verbal, chamber-music-like communication that’s invariably part of the equation when it comes to great orchestra.

It wasn’t always the case. When Hans Scharoun’s modernist masterpiece first opened, replacing after many years a hall destroyed in World War II (left), the Philharmonie was, if not an acoustical disaster, at least a great disappointment. But in a rare instance of a bad-to-mediocre hall being transformed into an absolutely superb one, modifications were made over the years to create one of the great concert halls of the world.

What distinguishes the Philharmonie from other amazing concert halls like our Symphony Hall and the vaunted Musikverein in Vienna is the relationship of the audience. Intentionally built to bring to the audience a more direct, visceral, connected experience, the stage is set at the bottom of a bowl, with the audience surrounding it. In a series of four concerts I attended a few years ago, I found that the experience really is remarkable. And yet, amazingly, in the four places I sat in the hall, the acoustic was even, blended, and true.

Beyond the experience of hearing music in the hall, I also found the architecture of the building itself to be inspiring. To once again draw comparison to Symphony Hall, walking into the lobby of the building takes you very definitively to a different time. But while Symphony Hall takes you to the early 20th century ambition and optimism of Boston, the Philharmonie transports you to that very troubled time of a divided Berlin in the early 1960’s.













It’s an era of architecture that hasn’t worn well overall, in my opinion, but like so much of Berlin, the building tells an important story, and one that connects to what the Philharmonic has been and is now to Berlin, Germany, and the world.  And in that sense, it's architecture that's beautiful and exciting.

If you’d like to share your experience of visiting the Philharmonie or hearing the Philharmonic, feel free to add a comment below.

(images via Wikimedia Commons)

All-Brahms with Kurt Masur

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
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"Porgy and Bess" at A.R.T.: Transformed and Illuminating

By Kim McLarin   |   Tuesday, September 13, 2011
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It is a truth not universally acknowledged that writers are always writing for somebody. Any writer with ego enough to desire publication has an audience in the conscious or subconscious mind during the act of creation. It is also true that this hovering audience shapes the creation as surely as the potter’s intended use for a pot shapes the clay.  As Toni Morrison asked of the great novel “Invisible Man,”   “Invisible to who?”

I had this thought while watching the excellent and moving adaptation of “Porgy and Bess” at the ART in Cambridge recently. According to the Playbill this production is “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” reportedly the title required by the Gershwin estate, but I am not so sure. The opera has been famously, and controversially, adapted by the playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Diedre L. Murray and directed by Diane Paulus, and I, for one, am grateful. Were it strictly the Gershwins’ opera, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much.

I can’t say for sure, though, because I’ve never seen "Porgy and Bess" before. Never wanted to.

I always assumed George Gershwin and his team created this grand American folk opera primarily for a white, early-twentieth century audience and that it therefore was unlikely to speak to me. What little I knew about the piece--the cringe-inducing lyrics by George Gershwin’s brother Ira and librettist DuBose Heyward (“I Got Plenty Of Nuthin’ ” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”) layered atop the sublime music, the fact that Sidney Poitier had at first refused to star in the movie version, the character description of Bess as a loose drug addict and the depiction of Porgy as deformed--did little to change my mind. Even considering that it might have been bold for the original creative team to imagine the inner lives of black people in 1935 didn’t mean I wanted to see it. Just because a portrayal is sympathetic doesn’t mean it is not also a stereotype.

All of which is to say I arrived at the ART slightly skeptical.  The first few songs—the sweet and famous lullaby “Summertime” and “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing”--did little to ease my worry. The crap game scene early in the first act--bare-armed black men gambling and courting violence--had me shifting in my seat.

But then the funeral scene hooked me. Here is the moment the production comes into full possession of itself. Here were people I recognized. Here was grieving and movement, gesture and sorrow, and song that I knew. Here was a witness to African-American life that felt deeply-rooted and authentic and true.


How important is such authenticity? To theatergoers who prize Gershwin’s transcendent score over all else, the African dance gestures and dead-on black church movements in the funeral scene may not mean much. Likewise, the set-up which gives context (and standard English) to Porgy’s “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” rescuing it from being a happy, darkey song may not greatly improve the work and the “excavation” of Bess’ character which Lori-Parks has spoken of doing may seem unnecessary or even presumptuous to some.

 To me, though, these transformations allowed me to fully embrace a work I fear I may not have before. They also go a long way toward answering a question I had upon first reading about this production: Does the world really need an updated version of Porgy and Bess? Do black people?

The answer to both questions is yes. The world needs this production because Audra McDonald is a revelation. Even with Parks’ tweaking, the character of Bess still hovers at the edge of blurred, two-dimensionality but McDonald wrenches her into focus as a vulnerable and deeply flawed woman fighting hard to save herself in the only way she knows. As others have said, this is not only great singing but great acting too.

Black people need this production now because “Porgy and Bess” is a story of not only of black romantic love (which would be reason enough), but also of black community, and of the redemptive and transformative power of love. 

Watching Norm Lewis’ crippled Porgy extend his hand to the beautiful Bess (and, yes, I’m glad they took him off of that damn goat cart) I tried to remember the last time we saw a story of a black man’s love for a black woman raising him to manhood and changing his life. When was that on the ART’s or any other local stage? (Heck, try to find, on broadcast or cable television right now, a black man with a black female love interest at all.) When was the last pop culture depiction that not only offered a black woman so valued and desirable that three men were willing to fight over her but, almost casually, also tossed the stories of two other solid and loving black couples into the mix?

And, yes, among a people still scarred, not only by the legacy of legalized racial oppression, but also by the present reality of racial caste and social control, manifest, among other ways, in mass incarceration of black men, any time is the right time for a story of a strong and vibrant black community.

It is not just Porgy who loves Bess. But the other characters who love as well: Clara who loves Jake, Serena who loves her husband, and Mariah and the fisherman and the preacher and the undertaker who love everyone. It is not just Porgy who will save Bess, if Bess is to be saved; it is the flawed but ultimately embracing and forgiving citizens of Catfish Row, who know that in loving and uplifting the least of them they are also saving themselves.

(Photos by Michael J. Lutch)

The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess,” American Repertory Theater through October 2, 2011, with the potential of a Broadway run early next year. Full information available at the ART’s Web site (including video interviews with the cast), http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/gershwins-porgy-and-bess.

"Illuminessence: prayers for peace" In Concert

Sunday, September 11, 2011
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New England Conservatory partners with Mayor of Boston Thomas M. Menino to present a concert in remembrance of 9/11, sponsored by John Hancock Financial Services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and BNY Mellon.


The world premiere of Illuminessence: prayers for peace, an interfaith oratorio by Silvio Amato (left), highlights the concert conducted by Benjamin Zander.  The NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra with chorus and vocal soloists perform the piece, commissioned by the Vatican and which touches on the commonality of human aspiration and the universal spiritual impulse as expressed in the prayers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, along with other works.

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

Benjamin Roe talks with composer Silvio Amato:




On the program:

Key:  The Star-Spangled Banner

Barber:  Adagio for Strings

Massenet:  "Meditation" from Thaïs with violin soloist Yuki Beppu (NEC Preparatory School student)

Amato:  Illuminessence: prayers for peace
chorus composed of singers from:
NEC Youth Chorale, Jonathan Richter, director
Young Men’s and Young Women’s Choruses from the
Handel & Haydn Society Vocal Apprenticeship Program,
Joseph Stillitano and Alyson Greer, directors
Kirsten Scott '08 Prep, soprano
Cristina Bakhoum '12 G.D., mezzo-soprano
Michael Kuhn, '12 M.M., tenor

Beethoven:  "Ode to Joy" from Symphony No. 9
with chorus and soloists


 

Last Night Of The Proms!

Thursday, September 8, 2011
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Marin Alsop

99.5 WCRB brings you one of the world's great music traditions on Saturday at 8pm, as conductor Marin Alsop leads the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Last Night of the Proms, from Royal Albert Hall in London.



The Music Director of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, steps up to the podium for a tradition-soaked celebration of music from the heart of Great Britain.

Special guests include American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and British violinist Nigel Kennedy.

London-born composer Anna Clyne, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's composer in residence, has written a new work that will open the program, and the concert also pays tribute to the anniversaries of the births of Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, and Benjamin Britten.

Of course, no Last Night of the Proms would be complete without Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 ("Land of Hope and Glory"), Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's "Jerusalem," and "God Save the Queen," performed this year in the arrangement by Benjamin Britten.

Join us at 8pm, Saturday, Sept. 7, on 99.5 WCRB in Boston and New Hampshire, and on 88.7 WJMF in Providence.


Royal Albert HallFull program:

Anna Clyne - Masquerade
(BBC Commission, World Premiere)

Wagner - Die Meistersinger Overture

Bernstein - Chichester Psalms

Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending

Britten - The Building of the House

Bernstein - "Make Our Garden Grow," from Candide

Massenet - "Je suis gris! je suis ivre!" from Chérubin

Handel - "Frondi tenere e belle ... Ombra mai fù" from Xerxes

Rossini - "Tanti affetti in tal momento!" from La donna del lago

INTERVAL

Bernstein - Candide Overture

Verdi - "Va, pensiero" (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves), from Nabucco

Arlen - "Over the Rainbow

Monti - Csárdás

Traditional - Londonderry Air ("Danny Boy")

Rodgers - "You'll never walk alone," from Carousel

Bantock - Sea Reivers

Lloyd - HMS Trinidad March
UK Premiere

Arne - Rule, Britannia!

Elgar - Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major ("Land of Hope and Glory")

Parry, orch. Elgar - Jerusalem

Traditional, arr. Britten - The National Anthem

Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano
Nigel Kennedy, violin
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor

(image of Marin Alsop by Grant Leighton; image of Royal Albert Hall by Marcus Ginns)

 

About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Kim McLarin Kim McLarin
Kim McLarin is the author of the critically-acclaimed novels Taming it Down, Meeting of the Waters and Jump at the Sun, all published by William Morrow. She is a former staff writer for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Greensboro News & Record and the Associated Press. McLarin has also written for TheRoot.com and Salon.com.

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