Classical Music with James David Jacobs

A Journey Through The Nutcracker

Monday, December 24, 2012
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Happy Birthday Beethoven!

Friday, December 14, 2012
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There is no composer as indispensible to music - and culture - as Ludwig van Beethoven. For the 242nd anniversary of Beethoven's birth, Classical New England celebrates with a special lineup of stellar performances from Boston and beyond.


Every listener can name a personal favorite. That composer whose music most fully captures the experience of being human. But whether your favorite is Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, or Schoenberg, all roads lead back, in some way, to Beethoven. All composers contribute to the dialogue across time and distance that makes classical music so vital in our lives, but no composer has had more impact on that dialogue than Beethoven.

Part of the fascination with Beethoven is the music itself, but that music came from a fascinating individual. Laura Carlo wrote about one particular letter that forever changed her perceptions of the man.

Letters invariably open new windows in our perceptions, but we can also learn about the person from the music he wrote, and James David Jacobs explores that avenue through Beethoven's piano sonatas.

To further explore and celebrate Beethoven, Classical New England brings you an entire weekend of special broadcasts. Tune in and experience the power of music that changes the world:

Friday, Dec. 14, 4pm
Drive Time Live celebrates with Classical New England's "New Discoveries and Fond Farewells," a program devoted to rarely heard works by Beethoven.
 

The inscription of Beethoven's name above the stage at Symphony Hall (courtesy of the BSO)

Saturday, Dec. 15, 7pm
Join us for an encore performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as John Oliver conducts the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the BSO in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

Sunday, Dec. 16, 1pm
Beethoven has been central to the Boston Symphony Orchestra from the very beginning of the orchestra's existence, and from the very beginning of its summer home at Tanglewood. Join us for the Opening Night concert from Tanglewood 2012, as Christoph von Dohnanyi conducts the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, recreating the very first BSO concert at Tanglewood.

Sunday, Dec. 16, 6pm
While the symphonies, string quartets, and piano sonatas are the most commonly heard pieces by Beethoven, his writing for the voice, in song and opera, is utterly remarkable, something Cathy Fuller explores on Arias and Barcarolles.

 

Eternal Echoes for Hanukkah

Saturday, December 8, 2012
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Thinkers and Doers: the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

By James David Jacobs   |   Monday, November 5, 2012
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Thomas Hampson
Thomas Hampson on the stage of Sanders Theatre, Oct. 6, 2012 (photo courtesy of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences)


Exactly one month before Election Day, October 6, 2012, I witnessed another periodic rite that dates back to the beginning of the republic: the Induction Ceremony of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The collective brilliance of the population of Sanders that day was truly staggering.


That afternoon, I had a front-row seat at Harvard's historic Sanders Theatre, a monument to the wisdom and contributions of generations past. It was a more-than-appropriate setting for honoring wisdom and contributions of our own time.

While there were a few household-name celebrities in attendance, the currency for the day was not fame per se, but accomplishment and influence in a specific discipline. The gathering at Sanders was the 1987th Stated Meeting of an organization that has been in existence since the very beginning of the United States, and whose original members included many of its founding fathers.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780, based on an idea proposed the year before by the nation’s future Second President John Adams in the Philosophy Chamber of Harvard College. Its original motto, Sub Libertate Florent, conveys the idea that arts and sciences flourish best in an atmosphere of freedom. Its current motto, “Cherishing Knowledge – Shaping the Future” describes what the Academy has become, and how over time it has put Adams’ original idea into action – to provide a space in which the nation’s leaders in the arts, sciences and humanities can gather to collaborate on an interdisciplinary approach to the challenges facing the country and the world. In the words of the Academy's charter, the "end and design of the institution is ... to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people."

Thus the people I witnessed taking the stage that Saturday afternoon were participating in an unbroken tradition of service that is inextricably tied to the history and progress of the country itself. There was a sense of awe among all the participants, a feeling that, for all their other accolades and accomplishments, this was something truly profound and larger than themselves.

The ceremony began with the sound of bagpipes as the Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums marched through the audience. Louis W. Cabot, the Chair of the Academy’s Board and Trust (elected to the Academy in 1958), welcomed the inductees, invoking John Adams’s characterization of them as “thinkers and doers.” Youth Pro Musica, a children’s choir led by Robert Barney, took the stage to sing “America the Beautiful., right before Academy President Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, called the meeting to order with the bang of her gavel. Here is her summation of the Academy’s history and mission:


Berlowitz then introduced 2011 inductee Daniel Day-Lewis(“Winner of two other Academy Awards,” as Berlowitz dryly put it), who read documents by Washington and Lincoln:


Secretary of the Academy Jerrold Meinwaldtook the stage to talk about the Academy’s traditions, and introduced wife and husband Bonnie Berger (from MIT, one of that day’s inductees in Mathematics) and Tom Leighton (a member of the Academy’s governing board) to read from the letters of John and Abigail Adams:


We then got to the real business of the day: the induction of the members, organized into five Classes. The first Class, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, numbered 52 inductees. Speaker was Steven H. Strogatz of Cornell University, who called Class I “the most romantic class” and told a touching “love story” of how he came to pursue mathematics: :


The speaker for Class II: Biological Sciences (44 inductees) was Margaret J. McFall-Ngai of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spoke of recent developments in microbiology that she termed “revolutionary.”

The prominent Washington lawyer and Supreme Court advocate Maureen E. Mahoney, spoke on behalf of the 37 inductees of Class III: Social Sciences. Mahoney opened her remarks by declaring, “y’all may want to know that you’re a very intimidating audience – but not quite as intimidating as Justice Scalia.” She then gave her perspective on John Roberts’ casting of the deciding vote to uphold the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
 
Class IV: Humanities and Arts (55 inductees) is perhaps the category with the most name recognition. Among this year’s inductees are playwright David Hare, violinist Midori, film director Terrence Malick, critic Alex Ross, composers August Read Thomas and Kaija Saariaho, whose Circle Map was premiered this month in the US by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and broadcast by Classical New England. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon were also in this category, as were three people rather innocuously identified in the program as William H. Cosby, Jr., Clinton Eastwood, and, as a Foreign Honorary Member, Paul McCartney (all three in absentia). The speaker for the class was David Blight, Professor of American History at Yale University, who gave what was, for me, the most remarkable speech of the afternoon, about the role of history in our lives:


Class V: Public Affairs, Business, and Administration (40 inductees – Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t show up, but Sanford Weill did) was represented by Penny Pritzker,who talked about the importance of education in her own family’s rise to success from impoverished immigrants to extremely successful entrepreneurs, and how she is working to ensure that today’s children have the same opportunities to succeed that she did: “I refuse to accept a future in which stories like ours are a thing of the past.”
 
The program continued with a performance by baritone Thomas Hampson (2010 inductee). Hampson has been working with the Library of Congress on the “Song of America Project”, exploring the nation’s history and spirit through its songs, from the 1700s to the present day. Accompanied at the piano by NEC faculty member Tanya Blaich, Hampson sang three of his discoveries through this project: “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free” by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors”, a setting of the Walt Whitman poem by the great African-American composer Henry Burleigh; and Michael Daugherty’s setting of Lincoln’s “Letter to Mrs. Bixby”, all three of which are discussed by Hampson before the performance:


The event ended with Hampson leading a sing-along of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
 
As we reflect on the conclusion of another Presidential campaign, no matter which votes you cast, and no matter what your perspective is on our institutions, it is important to remember that this country has always engaged in a cycle of re-invention, re-assessment, and seemingly insurmountable crises messily resolved and followed by periods of prosperity.
 
One constantly marvels at how prescient the founders were at anticipating both the peaks and valleys of the American experiment. The Academy of Arts and Sciences is yet another example of how the founders anticipated our needs, providing an ongoing repository of wisdom and experience from which we will continue to draw for many years to come.

The Classical Spirit of Halloween

By Cheryl Willoughby   |   Tuesday, October 30, 2012
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Conant Farm jack o lanterns

Forget about childhood fears like the thing in the closet and the seemingly endless expanse of darkness beneath the bed, “scary” can take on a whole different dimension with the perspective of an adult.


At a certain age, “scary” becomes things we earnestly worry about every day: the realities of the economy, or, say, freakishly strong late-season hurricanes. Or perhaps the "normally" scary, such as rush hour on 93 South (or 128, or 95, or the Mass. Pike, or….) on a Friday summer afternoon. It’s just part of growing up.

But, for just a few hours this Wednesday, Classical New England invites you to set aside the real-world concerns that keep us up at night in the grownup world and allow music to do what it does best: transport the mind and spirit to another place altogether. It’s Hallowe’en. And we’re offering a mid-week musical diversion featuring characters from the supernatural world of goblins, fairies, and magical spirits of all origins.

Do you know the story of the virtuoso violinist whose skills were so superb it was widely thought he could only have come by his talents if he’d struck some kind of dangerous Mephistpholean bargain? We’re not talking about Paganini here, though he certainly did everything he could in his lifetime to perpetuate a similar mythology for himself. No, this is someone who lived much earlier – the 17th c. teacher and violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Wednesday morning Laura Carlo will feature his treacherously difficult Devil’s Trill virtuoso violin sonata.

Other highlights in her program include two works that were famously featured in animated Disney films: the magical Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas (who could ever forget Mickey Mouse in the hapless title role, with his pesky problem of exponentially multiplying brooms and buckets?), and, from Fantasia, Modest Mussorgsky’s darkly evocative Night on the Bare Mountain.

As the day continues you can look forward to Alan McLellan conjuring up Charles Gounod’s ballet music from his “underworldly” opera, Faust, as well as the clarevoyant trio of witches from Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, and an afternoon materialization of Beethoven’s spectral Ghost piano trio.

And into the evening while the real-life little ghosts and witches take to the streets for their trick-or-treating, Cathy Fuller and James David Jacobs offer a haunting accompaniment to all of the night’s festivities.

You can get back to the fearsome tasks of yard cleanup, mortgage payments and end-of-the-week deadlines on Thursday and Friday. For the 31st, turn your imagination over to Classical New England and we’ll promise a howlingly entertaining time.

In the meantime, enjoy a few spooky classics from the Disney archives!





Handel's Saul, with The Sixteen

Monday, September 17, 2012
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The Sixteen

Conductor Harry Christophers and The Sixteen have just released a recording of Handel's oratorio Saul.


The soloists include sopranos Elizabeth Atherton and Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, tenors Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell, Robert Murray, and Tom Raskin, and basses Ben Davies, Eamonn Dougan, Christopher Purves, and Stuart Young.

 

Saul was Handel's fourth English oratorio, but it was the first one he wrote after he had given up once and for all on Italian opera. He wrote it at the age of 53, having made a full recovery following a debilitating illness he suffered the year before that affected his playing and his mental health. Saul also marked Handel's first collaboration with librettist Charles Jennens, with whom he would later collaborate on several other oratorios, including Israel in Egypt and Messiah. In many ways, then, Saul marks a new beginning for Handel, the start of his greatest creative period.

How appropriate, then, that this oratorio is concerned with events that take place during the Feast of the New Moon, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It's a story of death and renewal: the Lear-like fall of Saul, a once-great king who succumbs to feelings of murderous jealousy of the young David, who at the beginning of the oratorio is fresh from his victory over Goliath and at the end is crowned king, an important figure in all the Abrahamic religions. Handel treats this story as a true epic, calling for the largest cast and richest orchestration of any of his oratorios.

This week we'll be hearing a brand-new recording of the work by The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers, who is also the director of Boston's own Handel and Haydn Society. One of the notable features of the recording is the casting of the role of David, usually sung by a countertenor, as a female mezzo-soprano, which apparently was Handel's original intention. On this recording the role is sung by Sarah Connolly; in an Opera Today review of her performance of this role at the Barbican, Connolly is said to have "demonstrated that in the right hands, the richness, depth and flexibility of a female mezzo-soprano voice can work wonders in the role...here she gave a finely moulded, intelligent performance of great beauty."

This recording will be heard in four installments, during the 9pm hour on Monday and during the 10pm hour Tuesday through Thursday, in celebration of Rosh Hashanah.

See a libretto

Harry Christophers will conduct another Handel oratorio in Boston during the 2012-2013 season. The concluding concert of the coming season of the Handel and Haydn Society features Handel's Jeptha, and will feature two of the soloists heard in The Sixteen's Saul, including Joélle Harvey and Robert Murray.

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