Welcome To Classical Late Night

By James David Jacobs

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Oct. 3

Tonight I'm very happy to take on a new role at Classical New England as your late-night host. I hope you’ll join me from 9pm until 1am, Monday-Thursday, for a chance to hear a wide variety of music, from classic orchestral and chamber works to off-the-beaten track surprises from our own time and centuries before.

We’ll begin with a favorite of mine whenever inaugurating a new show: Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 1, K. 412, in the classic recording by Dennis Brain with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra.

One small caveat: It's not really a concerto. It's two concerto movements, written several years apart, and many scholars think that the second movement was completed from Mozart's sketches by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, the same man who completed Mozart's Requiem. I've always loved this movement, which contains a bit of a Gregorian Easter Hymn and has contrapuntal passages that remind me of the Clarinet Concerto, also a product of Mozart's last year; I have a hard time believing it's not authentic, but I'd think it was great music no matter who wrote it.

The show will continue with Brahms's Symphony No. 1. My cello teacher, Millie Rosner, declared the first ten measures of the piece to constitute the longest phrase ever composed. When it's performed correctly, you shouldn't be able to breathe during those measures. Let's see how Bernard Haitink and the Boston Symphony Orchestra affects your respiratory system.

A more intimate sound takes over in the 10pm. After Radu Lupu plays the Schubert Impromptu in A-flat, we’ll hear a string quartet by the 74-year-old Leos Janacek inspired by his fervent love for the much younger Kamila Stosslova. Janacek himself named the quartet "Intimate Letters," intended to reflect the character of their relationship that was never consummated physically, but thrived through the over 700 passionate letters they exchanged.

11pm is when we’ll turn to works of more recent vintage, and I can't think of a better way to begin than by celebrating the 75th birthday of Steve Reich, born in New York City on October 3, 1936.

To call Steve Reich the greatest of the Minimalists is to, well, minimize him; what is so extraordinary about his work is that, no matter how high-concept one of his pieces is, you come away from it feeling that you have experienced a piece of MUSIC. This is certainly reflected in the three works we will hear tonight.

Cello Counterpoint, from 2003, is the latest of his four "Counterpoint" pieces, each of which features one live performer accompanied by a tape of multiple tracks of that same performer. Reich says of this work that it is "the freest in structure of any I have written." (Some moments of it sound a little like Janacek!)

After this comes a performance you can only hear on Classical New England, in its first-ever broadcast. In November 2007, New England Conservatory presented a series of all-Reich concerts in Jordan Hall. From that series we'll hear members of NEC Wind Ensemble perform City Life, a 1995 composition which incorporates snippets of recorded sounds and speech, operated manually on sampling keyboards, into what is essentially a work for chamber orchestra. Among the recorded sounds are car horns, air brakes, door slams, and, in an eerie foreshadowing of his his most recent composition, actual field communications of the New York City Fire Department on February 26, 1993, the day the World Trade Center was bombed the first time. In its transformation of speech patterns into music the work is reminiscent of his early tape-loop pieces, It's Gonna Rain and Come Out.

The final work in our Reich celebration is a celebratory work indeed, Tehillim, a setting of texts from Psalms, 18, 19, 34 and 150. An exuberant work, it’s also widely acknowledged to be one of Reich's masterpieces, and a very appropriate one for the Jewish High Holy Days. K. Robert Schwarz said of this work that "Its tricky, syncopated, toe-tapping rhythms could only have come from the pen of a man who loves bebop and Stravinsky in equal measure."

As we enter the wee hours of Tuesday our new show will turn to two works about creation, the beginning of all things. Shortly after midnight is Jean-Fery Rebel’s ballet Les Elemens, a French Baroque ballet whose first note sounds as bracingly modern as Reich: all seven notes of the D minor scale sounded simultaneously, representing Chaos. Cosmos soon reigns, however, with a series of charming dance movements, rooted in the popular music of the time.

We then jump ahead nearly two centuries to end with another French ballet about the beginning of the world that combines bracing modernism with earthy populism: Milhaud's 1923 ballet La Creation du Monde. In the 1920s several classical composers incorporated jazz, or rather jazz-like elements, into their work. Leonard Bernstein said of this work: "I take the liberty of calling this work a masterpiece because it has the one real requisite of a masterpiece — durability. Among all of those experiments with jazz that Europe flirted with in this period, only The Creation of the World emerges complete, not as a flirtation but as a real love affair with jazz."

I hope you'll join me for our nightly love affair with music on Classical New England!

(image of Boston skyline:  By Luciof (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)



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