99.5 WCRB Journal

The Rite of Spring: Violence in Music in a Time of Violence

By James David Jacobs   |   Tuesday, April 23, 2013
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Boylston Street after Boston Marathon Bombing rite of spring costume design

left: Boylston St. following the Boston Marathon bombing (Anne Mostue/WGBH)
right: Nicholas Roerich's sketch of costumes for the 1913 production of The Rite of Spring (via Wikipaintings.org)

April 24, 2013

May 29th marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous premiere of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The New England Conservatory Philharmonia is celebrating the occasion by performing the work tonight on a program that also features another celebration of Spring, Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 1, and the Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin, one of the other works on the program on that historic night at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

What could not have been anticipated when this concert was planned well over a year ago was that, just a week before the concert, the young musicians performing it would bear witness to an historical event as violent and senseless as that portrayed in Stravinsky's music. I talked to several members of the orchestra, and they shared their stories and observations on what it was like to be in downtown Boston last week while working on The Rite of Spring. To hear their thoughts, click on "Listen" above.

For more about the NEC Philharmonia's performance of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, visit the New England Conservatory.

The Celebrity Series at 75

Sunday, April 14, 2013
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In 1938, pianist Aaron Richmond brought friends from the concert world to perform in Boston. Now the Celebrity Series celebrates 75 years as a major cultural force in the city, with visiting orchestras, a significant co-commission, and much more.

Executive Director Gary Dunning details the classical music highlights with Classical New England's Brian McCreath. Read about the season below, and to hear the conversation, click on "Listen" above.


In March of 2014, the Israel Philharmonic and conductor Zubin Mehta visit Boston's Symphony Hall to perform Bruckner's Symphony No. 8.

In that same month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel perform John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.

Mark Morris Mark Morris's Acis and Galatea

Mark Morris creates a new production of Handel's opera Acis and Galatea in a Celebrity Series co-commission. The culmination of the 75th anniversary season in May, the performances feature Mozart's arrangement of Handel's music, with the the chorus and orchestra of the Handel and Haydn Society and conductor Nicholas McGegan.

Marc-Andre Hamelin Piano

Marc-André Hamelin curates and performs a three concert series, including a solo recital, a duo concert with Emanuel Ax, and a chamber music concert with violinist Anthony Marwood and clarinetist Martin Fröst.

Other pianists appearing during the season include Yuja Wang, Benjamin Grosvener, András Schiff, Kirill Gerstein, Cédric Tiberghien, and Evgeny Kissin.

Takacs Quartet String Quartets

The Takács Quartet the six quartets by Béla Bartók over two concerts in March and April.

Also, Quatuor Ebène visits Boston for a program of Mozart, Bartók, and selections from the ensembles vast jazz repertoire.

In addition, the Jerusalem Quartet and Danish Quartet make their Boston debuts.

Deborah Voigt Vocalists

Soprano Deborah Voigt visit Boston twice during the season. In November, she'll bring her one-woman show, Voigt Lessons, developed with playwright Terrence McNally and director Francesca Zambello to the Calderwood Pavilion. Then, in April, she'll return for a recital at Symphony Hall.

Also, baritione Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake perform Schubert's Winterreise at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in February.

Other vocalists performing during the season include soprano Natalie Dessay, tenor Nicholas Phan, and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

To hear a conversation with Celebrity Series Executive Director Gary Dunning about the season, click on "Listen" at the top of the page, and for complete information about the 2012-2013 season, visit the Celebrity Series of Boston.

Photo of Gary Dunning by Robert Torres, courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston
Photo of Gustavo Dudamel courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo of Marc-André Hamelin by Fran Kaufman
Photo of the Takács Quartet by Ellen Appel
Photo of Deborah Voigt by Peter Ross

Sommerville's Dual Career

Monday, February 11, 2013
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The First Four Notes

Friday, February 8, 2013
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"33 Variations" at Lyric Stage Co.

By James David Jacobs   |   Thursday, January 17, 2013
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A scene from "33 Variations" at Lyric Stage Co. (photo by Henry Lussier, courtesy of Lyric Stage Co.)

Playwright Moises Kaufman was listening to a classical radio station in New York when he heard something about Beethoven's obsession with variation form.

So he stopped at Tower Records, where he asked the clerk about it. When the clerk told him the story of the Diabelli Variations, as Kaufman himself has put it, "I heard the story of my next play."

Moises Kaufman has made a career out of creating plays that are quasi-documentaries. They deconstruct a real-life event and its impact on a community, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard in "The Laramie Project," or the trials of Oscar Wilde in "Gross Indecency."

Much of the dialogue in these plays are taken directly from primary sources like newspaper articles and trial transcripts. "33 Variations" continues on that path and adds a new element. The story of how Beethoven came to compose the Diabelli Variations is rendered as faithfully as possible, with much of the dialogue taken from Beethoven's conversation books and Anton Schindler's biography. It also addresses the issue of how truthful either of those sources really are.

But Kaufman introduces an entirely fictional character to the story, one who lives in the present day and who serves as a kind of envoy for a modern audience into Beethoven's world. This character, Dr. Katherine Brandt, also becomes the protagonist in a searing personal drama that takes the idea of "variation form" to a level of deep emotional resonance.

At Lyric Stage Co. of Boston, Paula Plum plays Dr. Brandt, a musicologist who journeys to Bonn in order to inspect Beethoven's sketchbooks for the Diabelli Variations as research for a monograph she is preparing. She's determined to answer the question that has puzzled scholars since the work was published: why would Beethoven, who in the years 1819-1823 had more important commissions to fulfill, severe health problems, and a devastating legal dispute with his relatives, wreak havoc with his personal and professional relationships in order to write 33 variations on a theme he apparently didn't like, just to satsify his publisher's silly vanity project?

To those close to Dr. Brandt, though, the question becomes: why does Katherine, whose body is rapidly deteriorating from Lou Gehrig's disease, forgo what may be her final chance to forge a relationship with her daughter in order to spend her last days investigating Beethoven?

The action of the play alternates between the present and the past, letting the audience see the parallels between the predicaments of Katherine Brandt and Ludwig van Beethoven (played by James Andreassi). I visited Lyric Stage Co. to learn more from both Paula Plum and James Andreassi. To hear the conversation and learn more about the play, click on "Listen" above.

"33 Variations," directed by Spiro Veloudos, runs through February 2 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.

Let Freedom Sing: Music of the Abolitionists

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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Watch The Abolitionists Extended Preview on PBS. See more from American Experience.

“Any good crusade requires singing,” reformers like to say, and in the 19th Century, no cause was more righteous than in the decades-long crusade to abolish slavery.


As WGBH’s American Experience presents The Abolitionists on television, Classical New England brings you Let Freedom Sing: The Music of The Abolitionists. To hear the program, click on "Listen" above.

Let Freedom Sing, hosted by NPR’s Noah Adams, chronicles of the idealistic artists, uncompromising personalities, and powerful music of the era, and looks at how these forces combined to turn abolitionism from a scorned fringe movement into a nation-changing force.

Hutchinson Family Singers (1845; unknown artist; from the Metropolitan Museum, New York, via Wikimedia Commons)
Aided by Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State University musicologist Dale Cockrell, Let Freedom Sing profiles:
  • Henry Russell, the barnstorming Anglo-Jewish pianist and singer dubbed the master of “chutzpah and huzzah,”
  • the Milford, New Hampshire-based Hutchinson Family Singers, remembered as America’s first protest singers,
  • Stephen Collins Foster, America’s greatest – and most misunderstood – songwriter of the 19th century, who brought the rhetoric of the Abolitionists into America’s middle-class piano parlors,
  • Chicago publisher turned composer George F. Root, author of the anthemic "Battle Cry of Freedom,"
  • and songwriter Henry Clay Work, author of the Emancipation anthem "Kingdom Coming."

Hear Let Freedom Sing: Music of the Abolitionists on Classical New England, Saturday, Jan. 12, at 6pm, and Sunday, Jan. 13, at noon, and by clicking on "Listen" above.

To watch The Abolitionists, visit American Experience.

Music included in Let Freedom Sing:

Traditional - Steal Away
Fisk Jubilee Singers

Anon. - Come Join the Abolitionists
Deborah Anne Goss

Henry Russell - The Maniac
George Shirley, baritone; William Bolcom, piano

Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. - The Old Granite State
New Hutchinson Family Singers

Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. - Get off the Track
New Hutchinson Family Singers

Stephen Foster - Variations on Old Folks At Home
Noel Lester, piano

Stephen Foster - My Old Kentucky Home
George Shirley, baritone; William Bolcom, piano

Stephen Foster - My Old Kentucky Home arr. for Solo Flute
Paula Robison, Flute

Stephen Foster - Hard Times Come Again No More
Thomas Hampson, baritone; Jay Ungar violin; Molly Mason, bass; Tony Trishka, banjo; David Alpher, piano; Mark Rust & Garrison Keillor, background vocals

George F. Root - Where Home Is
The Harmoneion Singers: Peter Basquin, harmonium

George F. Root - Battle Cry of Freedom
John Cowan, vocals; Butch Baldassari, mandolin; Mark Combs, fiddle; Bryon House, bass; Jeffrey Taylor; accordion

George F. Root - Battle Cry of Freedom (reprise)
Mar Gardner, banjo; Rex Rideout, fiddle

Henry Clay Work - Kingdom Coming
Clifford Jackson, baritone; Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano; William Bolcom, piano; The Camerata Chorus Of Washington

Henry Clay Work – Who Shall Rule This American Nation?
Clifford Jackson, baritone; William Bolcom, piano; The Camerata Chorus Of Washington

Traditional – De Gospel Train (Get On Board)
Fisk Jubilee Singers

Jesse Hutchinson, Jr: - Get Off The Track
'The Proper Ladies -Deborah Goss and Anabel Graetz

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