99.5 Host Notes

A World Premiere From Boston Musica Viva

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, November 17, 2011
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On Friday, Nov. 18, Boston Musica Viva will premiere a new work by composer Bernard Hoffer.  Concerto di Camera II was written specifically for BMV's cellist, Jan Müller-Szeraws.  Hoffer is widely known as the composer of theme music for PBS NewsHour and the cartoon series "Thundercats." 

His truly kaleidoscopic range, however, is demonstrated in this new piece for cello soloist and chamber ensemble.  He chose to write for an ensemble that includes a flute, clarinet, violin, piano, and percussion.  That may at first sound spare, but the combinations of colors and textures Hoffer generates from those forces is remarkable.

You can hear some of those colors in the second movement, a scherzo built around pizzicato figures in the cello and unusual and compelling sounds from the prepared piano:

For more about the piece, hear a conversation with Hoffer, Müller-Szeraws, and BMV Music Director Richard Pittman:

For more information about the concert, visit Boston Musica Viva.

Happy Birthday, Robert J!

By Benjamin K. Roe   |   Monday, November 14, 2011
3 Comments   3 comments.

Nov. 14th, 2011, would have been the 80th birthday of the “Voice of New England,” Robert J. Lurtsema, the indefatigable host of Morning Pro Musica on WGBH for nearly three decades.

How to describe the impact of this itinerant lumberjack-turned-construction worker-Navy seaman-trapeze artist-carpenter-encyclopedia salesman-diving instructor-commercial artist-actor-ad salesman ... (and I’m probably forgetting something) … who eventually found his calling behind the microphone? Let’s leave the capsule description to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame:

Robert J “as he became known, was, arguably, the most recognizable classical music voice in New England broadcast history. His idiosyncratic style of DJ’ing and news reporting, his calm voice and often long pauses, plus his extensive knowledge of music (he himself had had no “classical” music training) helped establish WGBH as a significant, essential radio service. Morning pro Musica, ran for nearly 30 years (1971-2000). For 23 of those years he was on the air seven mornings a week, five hours a day. The program was also syndicated throughout in New England. His signature opening pieces, one for each day of the week, were accompanied by his personally made recordings of chirping birds, suggesting the show (which began at 7 a.m.) as virtually the first thing his listeners heard each day.

Robert J. has been gone for more than a decade now, but his influence is felt every day that Classical New England is on the air. Every weekend morning still begins with the “Dawn Chorus” of birdsong. Not a week goes by without a Sunday morning performance of a Bach cantata on The Bach Hour. And it bears remembering that Robert J. Lurtsema was a vital part of the history of both WGBH and WCRB, where he was the host of Folk City USA, for five years.

And to think…it all began with a cloudburst. Growing up in what he called a “decidedly unmusical family,” Robert J. once recalled that the first classical piece he heard was ''Cloudburst,'' from Ferde Grofe's ''Grand Canyon Suite.'' ''That is about as graphic and approachable as a classical work can be,'' he said. ''I was completely taken.''

The rest, as they say, is history. And I cannot help but consider that history as we celebrate Robert J’s 80th birth anniversary today with a mixture both of his favorite pieces of music, and some of the memorable daily themes.

I, too, was the one of the legions of students in the “Lurtsema School of Music,” where waking up to Morning Pro Musica was invariably more reassuring than going to sleep to another late-night loss by the Sox on the west coast. To be sure, Robert J. had his fans…and he had his detractors. But as we carry on his legacy at Classical New England, I can only marvel at his signal accomplishment: Robert J. Lurtsema made classical music on the radio consequential. What he programmed, what he said, where he went mattered to a population far beyond the practice rooms and the concert halls. That’s an inspiring – and occasionally daunting! – legacy.

Robert J. Lurtsema died before his time at the age of 68. But not before fulfilling his frequently-cited admonition of Horace Mann, etched on a plaque at his Boston University alma mater: “Be ashamed to die until you have achieved some victory for humanity.”

To hear an Robert J. Lurtsema with violinist Isaac Stern on Morning Pro Musica, click on "Listen" above.

Boston Lyric Opera's Macbeth

Thursday, November 3, 2011
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Boston Lyric Opera opens its 2011-2012 season with Giuseppe Verdi's first Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth.  The Italian composer was fascinated with the English author, and would later compose Falstaff and Otello.

For information about performance dates and more resources, visit Boston Lyric Opera.

David Schweizer, who directed last season's triumphant BLO production of Viktor Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis, collaborated with designer (and 2011 NEA Opera Honors recipient) John Conklin to create a new production of Macbeth that magnifies the psychological descent and depravity of Lord and Lady Macbeth through stark staging and costumes with a timeless look.

Classical New England's Brian McCreath spoke with Schweizer and soprano Carter Scott, who sings the role of Lady Macbeth in her BLO debut:


Arts, Culture and the Economy

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, November 2, 2011
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Nov. 2

U.S. Chamber of Commerce display (source:  AP)

What motivates someone to move to or settle in New England? That’s the question posed by Scott Kirsner in a recent column in the Boston Globe (registration required).  As a piece for the Business section of the paper, it originated in Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog, and his angle is that, for the most important industries in today’s economy, Boston isn’t doing as well as it could or, apparently, should.

I’m certainly in no position to argue with Kirsner’s reading of the data when it comes to Boston’s place in the worlds of technology, retail, financial services, or defense contracting. In all of these areas Boston is, according to Kirsner, second-tier, and what’s worse is that he attributes that rank to a sense of entitlement that overshadows what’s necessary in our global economy: a need not only to retain the great talent that goes to college in New England, but also to attract that talent from elsewhere.

But here’s where I want to know more. If the ranking of a city within a particular industry, especially those on the cutting edge, is important, as Kirsner says, what else accounts for the choices of today’s most knowledgeable, skilled, and talented people?

In another of his blog entries (registration required), Kirsner scratches the surface of the answer. He tells of asking a class of Harvard undergrads what they’ll be looking for in a city as they start their careers. Sure enough, these best and brightest do, in fact, value a city more highly if it’s an epicenter in the their chosen fields.

But right there, ranked third, is “Culture” (with cost of living slotting in second). Culture is a broad term, so it’s hard to know exactly what that small sample set is really thinking of. It’s safe to say, though, that on the whole, Boston and New England hold their own culturally with any other region of the country. (OK, maybe a specific flavor of culture can be more fully experienced in San Francisco or Seattle or New York, but let’s stick with the broad averages for now.)

Broadly defined, the arts and culture economy has already proven to be a vital force in New England in its own right. According to a September 2011 report from the New England Foundation for the Arts, “every $1.00 spent by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became $2.20 in sales for businesses in Massachusetts, and every job provided by a Massachusetts nonprofit arts and cultural organization became 1.6 jobs for workers across the state.”  (NEFA's report is an excellent source for a statistical deep-dive, as is the ongoing Boston Indicators Project of The Boston Foundation.)

In light of Kirsner’s Innovation thoughts, how does that economic force intersect with the recruitment of the best minds and talent for life sciences, digital marketing, green technologies, and other cutting-edge industries? It’s a question I’ll be looking into in the coming weeks, so watch this space. And in the meantime, feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below.

O mio babbino caro….

By Laura Carlo   |   Tuesday, October 25, 2011
3 Comments   3 comments.

Oct. 26

My father was facing surgery early one April many years ago and was dismayed that just before he had to go into the hospital his order of a dozen-plus heritage rose bushes was delivered early - too early to plant for our Boston gardening zone. Dad had specified that they be delivered two months later ... but things can go wrong with mail order....and now he had to deal with all these roses.

It was important that these rose bushes were saved because roses are very important to us as a family. When we children were born my father picked a rose from his own prize-winners every day and placed it in a vase near our cribs. He kept that up the whole first year of our lives: Red for his first-born, rosy-cheeked me, yellow for my fair little sister and healthy pink for his strapping son---so that the first thing that his "babies would see when they awoke was a rose.”

I returned the favor when Daddy turned 65---66 ruby red long stemmed roses (one to grown on)!

Now what to do with all these bare root rose bushes scrunched up in a soggy set of cardboard buckets left by the delivery man on the cold front stairs? Even though Daddy was a master rose gardener it was a huge task for one person, and given his impending surgery and the time of year there wasn't any time to waste, so I volunteered to help him.

I had never planted a rose bush before, but my father was very patient with me as he showed me step-by-step how to prepare the planting holes, test and amend the soil with organic compost and materials, carefully part the roots and plant and water just so. He showed me how, and just as important, he carefully explained "why" for each step. My usually quiet father was inspired to share with me how much he had loved roses from when he was a little boy. Although he often went hungry in war-torn Italy, and he was frightened of the sounds of war as a youngster, his mother kept pointing out to him that there was still beauty to be found in the world, including the exquisite, perfumed roses of Rome. He never forgot how roses came to symbolize all things hopeful and beautiful.

We worked quietly, then, side by side, and saving those rose bushes took us most of that day. When we were done my father surprised me by hanging a little sign that he had had a local hardware store make that read “The Laura Rose Garden,” something he was intending to do all along. He secured it to one of the larger front rose bushes for all passersby to see.

I have been winning trophies and ribbons and accolades my whole life but no prize ever meant so much to me.

No, not the naming.

The chance to plant roses with my father.

Rest in peace, my Daddy Carlo.

(image of rose by Parvin via Flickr;  Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mahler Unleashed

By Brian McCreath   |   Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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