By Brian McCreath | Sunday, March 20, 2011
Ever since the announcement of James Levine's resignation from his position as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (which you can read and hear about via our BSO broadcast producer Brian Bell's interview with Mark Volpe, Managing Director of the BSO, and segments on both the Emily Rooney Show and the Callie Crossley Show), one of the names that's popped up consistently as a potential successor to Levine is that of Andris Nelsons.
I'm pretty sure his name would be on most observers' short lists no matter what, based on reviews and impressions of his work as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England. But the BSO fanned those flames substantially by engaging the 32-year-old Latvian to replace Levine for the BSO's Carnegie Hall performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony on March 17.
And here are a few impressions from that concert:
Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe wrote that, "he scored a triumph on Thursday night in his BSO debut ... And in what is high praise from this orchestra, the BSO musicians stayed seated during one of Nelsons’s bows and joined the crowd in applauding him, shuffling feet vigorously." Eichler described his presence on the podium as "youthful but unflashy, leading with a podium technique that is far from conventional," which led to an "organic quality of the music-making, a sense of deep and thoughtful immersion in the musical moment at hand" and "some of the strongest playing of the season."
Overall, Eichler saw and heard "the full partnering of conductor and ensemble in the creation of a vibrant performance." Read the full review at the Boston Globe.
Meanwhile, at the New York Times, James Oestreich heard something quite different from the Nelsons/BSO combo. According to him, Nelsons "did not have [the BSO] sounding its best. It wasn’t so much a question of wrong notes or rhythms and the like, though there were those. It was more a matter of blatancy and imbalance." Calling the performance "muscular" (and that's not meant as praise in this work), he went on to say that, "Almost everything was at least a notch too loud, and almost everything surged to the foreground. Textures were cluttered. Accompanimental figures often seemed italicized."
It wasn't completely unsuccessful, as "Mr. Nelsons persuasively stressed the humor in the scherzo and the wildness in the Rondo-Burleske." But clearly Oestreich is not yet convinced that this relationship need be explored further. Full review (plus impressions of the concert conducted by Roberto Abbado, available at the New York Times.
Finally, a blog I only became aware of because of this concert, thousandfold echo, says that Oestreich's perceptions were accurate, but that rather than consider them a negative, the attention to detail is actually a positive: "Some approach Mahler’s intricate counterpoint by thinning out and clarifying the textures; Nelsons and the BSO took a more satisfying approach of endowing the inner voices with soloistic color and phrasing. Yet this attention to phrasing never broke up the line or descended to fussy point-making; it all seemed natural."
And the writer, Michael, noticed the same reaction of the players after the performance concluded: "When he came out for the second curtain call, the orchestra refused to rise, and sat there applauding him, until he took a solo bow. By this time the audience was on its feet."
That last point may turn out to be vitally important. Part of the reason Levine came to the BSO in the first place was the enthusiasm of the players for his work. And major orchestras like the BSO can be downright cranky when they're not on board with a conductor. So if there really is the enthusiasm from the musicians as described in two of these three reviews, BSO management will, in my opinion, be very wise in considering another opportunity to bring in Andris Nelsons for a series of concerts.
I can say, by the way, that Andris Nelsons is a name I thought of, too, when Levine's departure was announced. In the series of concert performances I program for the radio each Wednesday afternoon at 2pm, there have been a couple conducted by him, and my memory of these one-time-use recordings is that they were stellar. I'm intending to do a bit more digging around to see whether we might be able to secure a few more of his concert performances to offer on the air. Stay tuned, as they say.
And if you have more to add about Nelsons or other potential BSO conductors, just pop your thoughts into a comment below.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Brian McCreath | Monday, March 14, 2011
For more information about performers and presenters featured this week on In Performance, visit
Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, who perform Sibelius's Violin Concerto with soloist Bayla Keyes on March 20
Emmanuel Music, who, with First Lutheran Church and Winsor Music, celebrate Bach's birthday on March 19
Flutist Fenwick Smith
Pianist Chu-Fang Huang, who just won an Avery Fisher Career Grant
Violinist Caroline Goulding, who also won an Avery Fisher Career Grant
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Boston Early Music Festival
Violist Roger Tapping, who performs a recital at New England Conservatory on Thursday, March 17
Rockport Music, presenting violinist Nicholas Kitchen in an all-Bach concert on March 20
Leslie Amper, performing on March 20 at the Parish Center for the Arts in Westford
Camerata Ireland with Barry Douglas
By Brian McCreath | Sunday, March 13, 2011
Every once in a while a concert experience comes along that reminds me why we still have concerts in this age of iPods, downloads, streaming, and (ahem) radio. On Saturday night my wife and I headed to the Back Bay to hear the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, referred to by some as Akamus, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston and Boston Early Music Festival.
Jordan Hall (left) is a place I know really well, having heard and played a huge number of concerts there. The ensemble is one I know almost as well, at least as it’s appeared on many stellar recordings. (Check out the latest – Bach’s Art of Fugue – on The Bach Hour.) Even the program was on the highly familiar side: a Telemann Ouverture (Suite), Bach’s Brandenburg 5, one of Handel’s Opus 6 Concerti Grossi. (The conventionality of the rep almost scuttled my desire to go; good thing it didn’t. Read on.)
But something was out of synch as the concert began. Given the familiarity of the overall terrain, there was no choice: it had to be … me. I couldn’t engage.
At first I thought it was just because the concert began with Telemann, whose music I sometimes struggle to plug into. But no, Telemann doesn’t deserve that rap. It really was me.
As it turned out, I simply had to recalibrate. I had recently heard the BSO do Mahler 9. And as part of my job I listen to recordings all the time, especially recordings of big orchestral pieces. And even the recordings of baroque music tend to be highly produced audio-rich recordings that reward a pretty high volume setting.
But when Akamus launched into that Telemann Suite, the sound was so soft and transparent in comparison to my normal listening material that it felt like I might damage it if I so much as breathed too deeply.
Luckily, ears adjust quickly. Within a few minutes (well, maybe a few movements), my hearing had recalibrated itself, listening in a different way. I was picking up uncommonly subtle and remarkable phrasing approaches and a stunningly unified rhythmic feel from the ensemble. Ah, I thought, now it’s clear why this band is regarded as one of the best in the world.
By the end of the Telemann, as we waited for the stage change for Brandenburg 5, I turned to my wife and said, “There are some circles of people where, if you mentioned to them that you heard Raphael Alpermann play Brandenburg 5, there would be gasps of disbelief and envy.” At the end of Brandenburg 5, she was the one gasping with disbelief. Alpermann, the group's harpsichordist, gave a performance of such detail, control, and passion that I’m still not quite sure how he and the ensemble pulled it off.
And the rest of the concert followed suit. By the end, a concert of over two hours had flown by, and we felt like we could have stayed and listened all night.
This is why, no matter how many other options there are for listening to music, you must go to concerts. The parking, the expense, the annoying ripple of lozenge wrappers – it’s all small change compared to the experience of being in the presence of great musicians bringing you an artistic experience that can’t be matched anywhere.
I hope you’ll take us up on the concerts we mention on the air at 99.5. There’s usually a link on our web site to more information about these events.
Don’t stop listening to the radio. But use the radio to launch yourself into concert hall experiences.
If you’ve got a concert hall memory you’d like to share, just drop it in a comment below. I’ll look forward to hearing about it.
Friday, March 11, 2011
During this 130th anniversary year of the birth of Béla Bartók (born March 25, 1881), 99.5 All Classical celebrates the groundbreaking Hungarian composer with a series of on demand performances and features.
New England Conservatory Philharmonia
The Concerto for Orchestra, one of Béla Bartók's most enduring and popular masterpieces, was commissioned by conductor Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Performed for the first time in December 1944, it remains a regular fixture on orchestra programs around the world, and on March 9, 2011, Benjamin Zander conducted a performance at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, with the NEC Philharmonia.
Listen On Demand
Courtney Lewis conducts one of Boston's most exciting orchestras, Discovery Ensemble, in Bartók's kaleidoscopic Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. 99.5 All Classical host Brian McCreath talks with Lewis about the piece, with a walk-through of each of the movements, all recorded in 99.5 All Classical's Fraser Performance Studio.
Listen On Demand
Duke Bluebeard's Castle
In 1911, Bartók completed a one-act opera based on Charle Perrault's French fairy tale "Bluebeard," further revising it before its first performance in Budapest in 1918. A dark, pyschologically rich piece, Brian Bell offers a guided tour.
(image: Gustave Doré's Barbe Bleue, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Hear a guided tour at Backstage with Brian Bell
Takács Quartet, Muzsikás, and Márta Sebestyén
One of the premiere string quartets on today's concert stages joins forces with a legendary Hungarian folk ensemble and equally legendary Hungarian folk singer to explore the roots of Bartók's music.
Listen On Demand
Pianist Hung-Kuan Chen
Recorded in 2008 in 99.5 All Classical's Fraser Performance Studio, Hung-Kuan Chen performs a piece that combines Bartók's fascination with folk music and his evolving perspective of the piano as a percussion instrument, the Out of Doors Suite, in a program that also includes music by Brahms and Ravel.
Listen On Demand
Violinist Lara St. John and Pianist Anton Kuerti at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival
Recorded on May 14, 2009, at St. James Church during the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Lara St. John and Anton Kuerti perform Bartók's Rhapsody No. 2, Sz. 89, BB 96, written in 1928, part of a program that also includes music by Beethoven, Franck, Hindson, Ravel, and Liszt.
Listen On Demand