Classical Music with Brian McCreath

Oct. 21: Classical, Beer, and a Chat

By Brian McCreath   |   Thursday, October 21, 2010
1 Comments   1 comments.

Last week, I ran across a blog entry that tackled the always relevant question of the relevance of classical music.  The context was the Toronto subway system's use of classical music as a way to keep teenagers from hanging out in train stations, but it was broadened out by Colin Eatock at 3quarksdaily to pose the question of where classical music fits in in today's society.  A few comments came in, which you can read as part of the original post, and here are some highlights:

Sara wrote that classical music should "stop trying to market itself;  just make it available, let it pervade the environment, and those who want to appreciate it will come to it."  So maybe using classical as something people encounter in a subway is a good thing, even if the intent is a bit questionable?

Robert wrote that the placement (marginalization?) of classical music today "is a decision that has been taken and that lovers of classical music have largely accepted."  Which makes me wonder what any particular individual can do to NOT accept that decision.  How can lovers of classical music activate and change the way the music is perceived in our society?

Finally, Ruth, wrote that it's about context, and that a big problem is "formal setting of classical concerts, formal behavior required despite changed social mores, for ex., applause between movements scorned ('hold down that enthusiasm please') [is] all offputting in today's culture of informality and audience involvement."

Well, now comes a study of younger listeners (which you can read about at the London Evening Standard) that suggests something like what Ruth is getting at:  that 24-36 year old listeners want a casual setting, maybe with a beer to relax with, and they want to be addressed from the stage, i.e. brought into the conversation.

Personally I can see both sides of this:  I see a lot of value in staying silent during an extraordinary performance, partly to enhance my own experience, but also out of sheer respect for the experience of others.  On the other hand, if an especially explosive movement ends, it does feel pretty bizarre at times for an entire hall to sit on their hands.  As for talking from the stage and having a beer at the concert, I'm all for it!

What's your take?  Comment below to get in on the discussion.
(photo:  Easter brew in Prague, April 2010)

Oct. 20: Executioner's Goulash Anyone?

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, October 20, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

We've been featuring concert recordings from the Czech Philharmonic each Wednesday at 2pm on 99.5 All Classical during October, and for today, it's the Carnival Overture by Dvorak and Taras Bulba by Janacek, conducted by Eliahu Inbal at the beautiful Rudolfinum in Prague.  (You can read previous posts here and here.)

And if I could, I would instantly transport you to Prague for a meal to go along with these performances.  I was there with an amazing group of 99.5 All Classical supporters on a WGBH LearningTour (next stop:  Spain!), and we found what felt like the perfect place for an after-concert repast.  The restaurant U Mecanase (left, courtesy Steve's Travel Guides, and below, courtesy U Mecanase) was just around the corner from our hotel (the fabulous Aria Hotel, to be specific), and it's the home of Goulash Jan Mydlarr, or more popularly known as Goulash Prague Executioner Style.  Quite delicious.  The story is that, lo, those many years ago, when executions happened on a regular basis, and in quite gruesome manner, the executioner had to eat alone so nobody knew who he was (and I'm assuming it was a he).  His restaurant of choice was this very same U Mecanase, and his dish of choice was this particular recipe for goulash.  How much of that is history and how much of that is legend never really became clear to our group, but it definitely added to the local color.

Oct. 15: Mahler's Mahler

By Brian McCreath   |   Friday, October 15, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

In 1905, Gustav Mahler sat down at the piano in Leipzig and played through a few of his own compositions in piano reduction form, and everything was "recorded" on a piano roll.  It's the only recorded document of Mahler performing, and while he has a (ahem) charmingly casual approach to accuracy, the interpretive aspect can be revelatory.

These piano rolls have been issued on CD over the years, but earlier this year, I had the good fortune to be in Vienna and found a recent release that, for me, stands apart.  For this recording, the piano rolls were re-produced on the Blüthner piano Mahler owned when living in Vienna.  It's not as rounded and perfect a sound as a modern Steinway, and that lends it just that tiny extra bit of authenticity to my ear. 

So if you have a chance to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler's Fifth Symphony this week, either by going to Symphony Hall or by tuning in on Saturday night for our live broadcast, I hope you'll tune in today after 3:30 for Mahler's own performance of the piano reduction of the first movement of that piece. 

And for some perspective on Mahler's place in Vienna's history and the (now unfortunately ended) museum exhibit where I found this CD, visit Bloomberg's Norman Lebrecht.  Also, check out Brian Bell's audio tour of Mahler's Fifth below.

Oct. 13: Prague and Art Nouveau

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, October 13, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

On today's program, we'll sample a new recording by the young, remarkable British vocal ensemble Stile Antico, who visit Boston this Friday for a concert presented by Boston Early Music Festival.

And I also have for you another in our series of concert performances from the Czech Philharmonic, recorded at the Rudolfinum in Prague (today featuring Josef Bohuslav Foerster's Violin Concerto No. 1 with soloist Ivan Zenaty).  I was there last spring with a WGBH Learning Tour (a terrific way to travel, especially if you love classical music;  and if you do, you might consider travelling next spring to Spain!).  And when our tour guide announced to us that, the night before visiting the Rudolfinum, we'd be hearing the Prague Symphony Orchestra at Prague Municipal Hall, the response from our group was ... underwhelming.  There we were in a former Communist state, going to a concert hall with the astoundingly pedestrian name of Municipal Hall.  We were in for a shock.  This has to be one of the most beautiful concert halls I've ever been in, and below are some pictures of it.  And further down, you'll find a work by one of the great Art Nouveau artists, Alphonse Mucha, who had a lot to do with the design and decor of Municipal Hall, and for whom there is a wonderful museum in Prague.  Enjoy, and be sure to follow the links to learn more!  And if you have memories of Prague to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Exterior of Prague Municipal House, courtesy of

Prague Municipal House interior, courtesy of Czech Tourism

Alphonse Mucha's Autumn, courtey Olga's Gallery

Oct. 12: Joan Sutherland, 1926-2010

By Brian McCreath   |   Tuesday, October 12, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

For more about John Harbison, the influence of Mahler and Sibelius on his work, and the coming series of his symphonies in performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, visit the Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, word has come through that soprano Joan Sutherland died peacefully yesterday at the age of 83.  I'll have a couple of highlights of her work with Luciano Pavarotti at around 3:30 today, and you can learn more at NPR Music's Deceptive Cadence and at Opera Chic, where I found this video:

Concerts Tonight

By Brian McCreath   |   Friday, January 14, 2011
0 Comments   0 comments.

Jan. 14

Boston is one of those places that usually has so much going on that it's impossible to do everything.  Here are a few of the choices you've got for tonight:

The Cantata Singers continue their season-long exploration of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams at Jordan Hall (above).

Boston Early Music Festival presents oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz and his ensemble Symphonie des Dragons at First Church in Cambridge, Congregational.

And the Boston Symphony Orchestra is playing at Symphony Hall with conductor Mark Elder and pianist Lars Vogt.

About the Author
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath


Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor


You are on page 32 of 34   |