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
By Brian McCreath | Thursday, March 10, 2011
When I was in high school, I joined a youth orchestra at just the right time: in the year of a European tour! It was my first time to play with anything like a real orchestra, and the fact that our year would culminate in a trip to Romania and Hungary, with a few days in Vienna to cap it off, only sweetened what already seemed like a pretty exciting prospect.
And among the pieces of music we took with us was the Viola Concerto by Béla Bartók (left). In comparison to the other music on our programs - Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2, Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 - it positively crackled with other-world-ness in my 17-year-old ears.
But what is that other world? It's not Bartók's alone; he would tell you that himself, I imagine. There are those composers who invent sound worlds out of thin air, but the music Bartók wrote has, at its core, the music of the countryside, painstakingly collected by visiting the villages of Hungary and Romania with unbelievably cumbersome and primitive recording equipment.
That monumental effort paid off. Ultimately, his musical creations take that DNA to places only he could have constructed.
In November 2008, thanks to the Celebrity Series of Boston, we had the chance here in Boston to experience the connections between Bartók's work and its spiritual (and sometimes actual) source material in a fiery, colorful, visceral way. The Takács Quartet, originally from Hungary, now based in Colorado, collaborated with the Hungarian folk band Muzsikás and folk singer Márta Sebestyén for a fascinating concert that placed Bartók's concert music side by side with examples of the music he collected in the villages of Hungary and Romania.
By Cathy Fuller | Thursday, March 3, 2011
It was on Dec. 5, 2010, at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in Boston, that, as the final, triumphant chord of Brahms’s Second Symphony rang out, the audience leapt from their seats with a fabulous, unanimous holler. Brahms had galvanized the people in an overwhelming way. It was sheer joy.
It was the Concert for the Cure, organized by flutist Julie Scolnik to benefit breast cancer research. Sir Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic’s Artistic Director, had given an immediate “yes” to Scolnik two years earlier, when she asked if he would volunteer his time for the cause.
His schedule, though, was only going to allow for this one evening in December, 2010. Having played under his baton, and having survived breast cancer, Julie knew how worth the wait this would be. She gathered together a brilliant orchestra of players in the meantime, all eager to offer their time for the cause.
Rattle works in otherworldly ways. He doesn’t ever beat time. “Why should I?” he asked me. Instead, he inspires his players with gestures that are loaded up with meaning and shape - it’s as if those gestures hold the DNA that every phrase needs to navigate its perfect path.
In rehearsal, this struck me as magical. He had harnessed everything that a conductor could need. Within the space of just a few hours, with an orchestra that had never before existed, he molded music of balance, clarity, intelligence and passion. His wisdom about the way that these pieces are constructed allowed him to pave the way to the climaxes with just the right pacing and atmosphere. I will never forget the quality of hushed love that he brought to the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.
The concert began with Mozart’s joyous Piano Concerto in G, K. 453. It sparkled in the hands of Marc-André Hamelin, and it was astonishing to see how immediately Rattle caught on to Hamelin’s vision. After a rehearsal barely longer than the concerto itself, the spark was lit.
The Massachusetts Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure partnered with Julie on this event. I hope you'll visit them online to learn more about the race to end breast cancer, and the number of lives that can be saved by bringing education, testing and treatments to those who might otherwise never have learned to seek help.
Juile Scolnik and Sir Simon Rattle at the Concert for the Cure, Dec. 2010
Here is the complete concert, and below that, one part of the concert to enjoy in video form.
Boston's Concert for the Cure
(video produced by Cambridge Studios)
Concert for the Cure Orchestra:
Julliette Kang, concertmaster
Thomas Van Dyck
(images: Steven Isenberg)
Monday, December 20, 2010
Tuesday, August 27, 2013