Music News

2011-2012 Classical Mid-Season Report

By Brian McCreath   |   Monday, February 6, 2012
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Boston Globe classical music critic Jeremy Eichler joins Brian McCreath of Classical New England to review the top stories so far during the 2011-2012 classical music season in Boston.

Jeremy Eichler (image courtesy of Boston Globe)

The classical music season has seen some dynamic performances over the last few months, but they took place alongside some unexpected developments.

Jeremy Eichler and Brian McCreath talk about a few of the low and high points.

Part 1: Opera Boston, Bemjamin Zander and the New England Conservatory, and Calderwood Hall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

For more about Opera Boston, visit the Boston Globe, with reporting and analysis by Geoff Edgers and history by Matthew Guerrieri (registration required).

Classical New England has video from Calderwood Hall, and for more about concerts scheduled there, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Musuem.

Part 2: Continued cancellations at the BSO, and looking forward to a few events coming up

For Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts on-demand, visit BSO Radio, and for tickets to upcoming concerts, including the week wtih guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, visit the BSO.

For information about performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, visit the Handel and Haydn Society. For more about Tan Dun's Water Passion After St. Matthew, visit the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Full conversation, with additional commentary on the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Opera Boston, Calderwood Hall, and more

(image of Boston skyline:  Boston Skyline At Night By Archon Fung (Arfung at en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


Thomas Quasthoff Leaves The Stage

By Anastasia Tsioulcas   |   Thursday, January 12, 2012
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Thomas Quasthoff (image by Kass Kara, courtesy of the artist)

An extravagantly talented bass-baritone takes an unfortunate early retirement at age 52.

Devastating news came yesterday: One of the world's great geniuses of song, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, announced that he was retiring from concert life at age 52 due to persistent health concerns. He had announced last September that he was cancelling his singing engagements through the end of 2011; now that decision has been made permanent. With an incredibly empathic feel for text and a tone my colleague Tom Huizenga rightly called "burgundy-colored," Quasthoff's presence onstage will be very sorely missed.

In the official announcement of his retirement released by his management, Quasthoff said, "After almost 40 years, I have decided to retire from concert life. My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself. I owe a lot to this wonderful profession and leave without a trace of bitterness."

I first met Quasthoff in the mid-1990s, during the period he was signed to RCA Victor Red Seal. I worked at one of his label's sister divisions, and later had occasion to interview him a couple of times. He was always a gracious, warm and sweet artist with a ready laugh.

His presence and demeanor were a consistent and utter refutation of all the factors that could have made him bitter and resigned to a lesser life: his profound physical disabilities, difficult childhood (with the first three years of his life spent in a hospital) and later struggles that included being denied admission to a conservatory in his native Germany because he was unable to play the piano, which was considered an unbreakable degree requirement.

When his mother was pregnant with him, she took thalidomide, a prescription drug that caused serious birth defects. As Quasthoff wrote of his body in his 2008 memoir, The Voice: "Here is a 4-foot, 3-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left. He has a receding hairline, a blond pig head and a few too many pounds around his hips."

Quasthoff plans to continue teaching at Berlin's Hanns Eisler Academy of Music and at master classes around the world, and he will continue as artistic director of the "Das Lied" international song competition he founded in 2009. He also will continue to host his "Thomas Quasthoff's Night Talks" series at the Konzerthaus Berlin, in which he leads conversations with celebrities from politics and the arts. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Alexis Weissenberg Dies at 82

By Tom Huizenga   |   Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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Alexis Weissenberg and Herbert von Karajan (source:  AP)

The dynamic pianist escaped the Nazis to build a brilliant career.

The Bulgarian-born pianist Alexis Weissenberg, whose musical talent as a youngster probably saved his life and his mother's, died Sunday at age 82.

Weissenberg's career swayed high and low. At its peak, he made recordings with Leonard Bernstein and Herbert Von Karajan and was hailed as a distinctive virtuoso. At its rock-bottom, Weissenberg, weary from too much fame too fast, took a 10 year break, reemerging with a Paris recital in 1966 and successful performances of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Karajan.

Weissenberg was born in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, in 1929, and began piano lessons at age three. As a ten-year-old, he gave his first recital.

It was in 1941 during the war, as he recalls on his web site, that he and his mother packed a small bag, a few sandwiches and an accordion and fled for the border with fake ID papers:

My mother was interrogated during two infinite hours, after which we were placed in an improvised concentration camp with a probable design to a final destination, Poland and extermination. It is unnecessary here to describe the three months we spent there, it was no different from other camps, except that there were no tortures and no murder. Only three elements remained constant: silence, singing, and crying. The German officer who was given the responsibility of our bunker happened to like music enormously.

Luck is a nasty miscalculation which sometimes produces tiny miracles. Our unexpected piece of luck was a musical instrument, the dear old accordion. The German officer adored Schubert. He let me play in the late afternoon, and would come and listen from time to time. I remember him seated in a corner, near nobody, stone faced, expressionless, suddenly getting up and leaving with the same abruptness as when he walked in.

It was the same officer who decided one chaotic day to come and fetch us hurriedly, bring us to the station, push our belongings through the door, literally throw the accordion through the window of the compartment, and say to my mother, in German "Viel Glück" ["Good Luck"] and vanish. Half an hour later the train crossed the border. Nobody asked for a passport.

Weissenberg reportedly had long suffered from Parkinson's disease. He died in Lugano, Switzerland where his family had moved.

If you have any favorite Weissenberg memories, please tell us about them in the comments section.

You can also read a more detailed obituary here from our colleague Brian Wise at WQXR. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

New England Philharmonic Premieres Work by Michael Gandolfi

Friday, October 28, 2011
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James Yannatos, 1929-2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011
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Oct. 27

Composer and conductor James Yannatos died on Oct. 19 at his home in Cambridge.  Known as an inspirational mentor for several generations of students as conductor the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, he was also an accomplished composer. 

According to the Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler,

His most ambitious work was a 75-minute oratorio called “Trinity Mass,’’ addressing the anxieties of the nuclear age, its name taken from the test site of the first atomic bomb. For the piece’s Cambridge premiere in 1986, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra was joined by four local choruses. The libretto collected antiwar texts taken from Native American prayers, the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and the speeches of Albert Einstein, among other sources.

Typically for Dr. Yannatos, the score’s musical language was extremely eclectic, drawing inspiration from Gregorian chant, Japanese scales, gospel harmonies, Bach’s B-Minor Mass, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

From the Harvard Crimson:

Yannatos was aware that his students, experienced and well-versed in musical talent, had come from a variety of backgrounds, said Norman L. Letvin ’71, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who played in Yannatos’ orchestra all four years while he was an undergraduate.

“He had the ability of finding the right mix of how to push students and really understanding that it’s hard to switch gears as a student,” Letvin said.

Victor M. Lee ’05, a former HRO violinist, remembers the encouragement that Yannatos would provide in pushing the orchestra forward to try new types of music.

Yannatos hosted listening parties at his home after every performance, where students from the orchestra would be invited to listen to the soundtrack of their latest performance. At the listening party for Yannatos’ final performance, a group of orchestra members showed up in turtlenecks as a tribute to their outgoing mentor, Tsen said.

For full obituaries, visit the Boston Globe and Harvard Crimson.

Hear performances:

  Mozart - Overture to The Magic Flute

  Yannatos - Symphony No. 3:  Prisms

Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, James Yannatos, conductor
Recorded at Sanders Theater, Harvard University, on Oct. 31, 1998

(photo of James Yannatos courtesy of Harvard University)

Alisa Weilerstein Wins MacArthur Grant

By Brian McCreath   |   Tuesday, September 20, 2011
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Sept. 20

2011 has proven to be a good year for cellists with Boston connections, with a Tchaikovsky Competition Gold Medal for Narek Hakhnazaryan.  The trend continued today when the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced that Alisa Weilerstein is one of 22 people chosen to receive so-called "genius grants."  The awards of $500,000, paid over five years, are given on the basis of "creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future,” according to a New York Times interview with Robert Gallucci, the president of the MacArthur Foundation.

Weilerstein, whose parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, are on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, has rocketed to the front rank of concert soloists in the last few years, appearing with many major orchestras, including last month's appearance at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

She visited our Fraser Performance Studio in 2008, and you can hear that performance in the Live From Fraser archive, and there is more on the story at NPR Music.

In 2010, she was invited to perform Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Significantly, the conductor was Daniel Barenboim, whose late wife, Jacqueline DuPré, was closely identified with that piece.  Here is an interview from that week:

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