Monday, August 31, 2009

Coming up... the Boston Early Music Festival

Every once in a while, we get the chance to dig a bit deeper in our production here, heading out to concert halls to talk with musicians about their performances, their backgrounds, and what makes them tick. The result is radio that, we hope, connects you with music and the specific performances in a stronger, more compelling way. The Boston Early Music Festival gave us several of those opportunities last June (lots to read in the Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, and New York Times), and now you've got the chance to experience them.

Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, September 1 at 2pm, you can hear a four part presenation of the BEMF production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea with the remarkable Gillian Keith in the title role, and each day features additional commentary from the festival's co-directors, Stephen Stubbs and Paul O'Dette.

Then, each Saturday at 10am in September, you can catch special productions that feature several other performances from the festival, including the Ricercar Consort, Zefiro, Stile Antico, the Flanders Recorder Quartet, and many more. Details to follow, but for now, tune in and enjoy the opera!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When my wife and I recently visited her parents, she ran across a tee shirt she bought at one of her first concert experiences. It's one of those '70s era "athletic" shirts with three-quarter length sleeves and features a quite long-haired James Taylor. I guess that clearly makes her part of the target audience for our broadcast on Aug. 30, and I hope you can tune in, too (don't worry, no vintage tees required). JT will be on stage with the Boston Pops and John Williams, and the seats in the Koussevitzky Music Shed are SOLD OUT. So even if you were thinking about doing a reverse "Stockbridge to Boston" to catch it, lawn tickets are the only option. Nothing wrong with that, but you can also tune in at 2pm on 89.7-FM and All-Classical WGBH on the internet to hear the concert live. And to learn more about James Taylor's connection to Tanglewood and the BSO, check out Geoff Edgers's piece in the Boston Globe.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Brahms for All Seasons

The formula of public radio is pretty simple, and pretty well known: we air the most thoughtful, compelling radio programming possible, and you (the public) pledge and send financial contributions to keep that programming viable. Along the way, you might like a tangible sign of our appreciation, and that's where the fun begins. How about everything Johannes Brahms ever wrote? We've run across a complete collection of Brahms's music that comes from the deep, extensive Deutsche Grammophon catalog, and I'm betting that, if you started today, you'd still be listening to discs for the first time next summer. (For the record, there are 46 of them.) Check out our online pledge options for more details, or just call up at 888-897-9424.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Silence Before Bach

“Bach is the only thing that reminds us that the world is not a failure.’’ - Emil Cioran

The virtual indestructibility, malleability, and sheer power of J.S. Bach's music affords artists of all sorts a catalyst for expressing their ideas. If you have the chance to get to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the next week, you can catch "The Silence Before Bach," a rarely shown film by Catalan director Pere Portabella that reinforces, in wildly imaginative and beautiful ways, the idea that the world as we know it would be unrecognizable without Bach. I got a chance to see the film yesterday, and found Ty Burr's review for the Boston Globe spot on. "The Silence Before Bach" is firmly in the category of European art film, so you may or may not learn factual information you didn't already know about Bach, but what you do know may be transformed.

And speaking of transformation, try to tune in just after 8am this Sunday, when I'll have Bach's Cantata No. 199, "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut," in the intensely beautiful, painful, and ultimately joyous performance by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with Craig Smith and Emmanuel Music.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hildegard Behrens

By now you may have heard that soprano Hildegard Behrens has passed away, suddenly, while travelling in Japan. In obituaries and appreciations (like Anthony Tommasini's in the New York Times), you can learn about her late start as an opera singer, and her seemingly inevitable trajectory into Wagnerian roles. My own memory of her comes from 1988, when she was in Boston for semi-staged performances of Richard Strauss's Elektra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Seiji Ozawa, performances which are also referenced by Alex Ross of the New Yorker and which were recorded for a commercial release. In my mind, it's impossible to overstate the individual power of that performance, which was echoed in Gramophone magazine (reviewing that subsequent CD): "... so much of her performance is felt instinctively from the heart and is communicated to her audience in this live concert through her psychological understanding of the part expressed in her vibrant, very personal tone." (April 1989)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Debussy and the BSO on Exploring Music

Coming up this week on All-Classical WGBH, Bill McLaughlin has programmed an iconic performance from the Boston Symphony Orchestra on “Exploring Music.” If you haven’t heard Bill’s show, give it a try. Each week, he goes seriously in-depth on a particular topic, spread out over five episodes (Monday – Friday at noon on All-Classical WGBH). This week he’s “Exploring” Claude Debussy, and that’s where the BSO comes in. The sound of the BSO, as it evolved during the first half of the 1900’s, was strongly influenced by French musicians and conductors, leading to a silky, graceful approach in the strings and bright, kaleidoscopic colorings in the winds and brass. By 1956, those characteristics had been optimized through the perfection of Symphony Hall’s acoustics, and Music Director Charles Munch grabbed the opportunity to lead the orchestra in what has become a landmark recording of Debussy’s La Mer. Dial up All-Classical WGBH on the internet or on 89.7 HD-2 this Thursday at noon to hear how Bill McLaughlin weaves that piece into the story of this fascinating composer. And to hear Ted Libbey and Fred Child talk about that same recording, stop by NPR Music.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Great Mountains Festival

Last week, the fortunate news of the release of two American journalists from prison in North Korea highlighted the difficulty that part of the world still endures. But in the midst of that difficulty, art and music still flourish and are, I imagine, a life sustaining force for many. Well, my colleague Richard Knisely, known for bringing festival concerts to WGBH listeners from all over the world every summer, has tapped into that pivotal geographic area for a series of exciting performances from the 2008 Great Mountains Festival in Gangwon Province, South Korea, just south of the DMZ. With a roster of artists of American, European, and Asian origin, these concerts represent not just great music-making in its own right, but also the ways in which classical music and Asian societies are cross-pollinating to create startling results. This will be our only chance to offer these performances on the air, so tune in to 89.7 between noon and 4pm or dial up All-Classical WGBH on HD radio or the internet between 7pm and 10pm each weekday this week. Friday afternoon’s schedule includes Richard Strauss’s Cello Sonata, Osvaldo Golijov’s tango-inspired Last Round, Zoltan Kodály’s earthy Duo for Violin and Cello, and the timeless Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by J.S. Bach.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paris anyone?

I know, I can’t afford a European vacation either at the moment, but you can hear three concert performance from Paris, coming up on the next three Friday mornings at 10am. We’ll get started on Aug. 7 at the historic Salle Pleyel with the Radio France Philharmonic and conductor Andrey Boreyko in performances of Samuel Barber’s Vol de Nuit and (appropriately) George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Then, on Aug. 15, we’ll head to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (where the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring took place, leading to a (ahem) highly energized discussion among interested concertgoers) to hear Brahms’s Third Symphony, with conductor Daniele Gatti and the French National Orchestra. Finally, on Aug. 22, our last stop is the beautiful Théâtre du Châtelet on the banks of the Seine for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the amazing pianist Arcadi Volodos and the French National Orchestra, conducted by Dmitri Liss. We can only broadcast these performances once, so grab a croissant and settle in on Friday at 10am on 89.7 and 5pm on All-Classical WGBH!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Michael Steinberg

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Whoever it was that uttered those words (and I dare you to try to find out; if you do, let me know), probably hadn't read much by Michael Steinberg. The futility of writing about an art that by its definition defies description is keenly and regularly felt by anyone who's ever tried it, including myself. For all I know, Steinberg himself felt that way at least a time or two, but I've found not a shred of evidence that he did in any of the writings he produced as one of the most important writers in the music world. The former Boston Globe critic and Boston Symphony Orchestra program annotator (and that just cites the most obvious of local connections, leaving rest of the iceberg under water) passed away last weekend. I hope you'll get a chance to tune in to our live BSO broadcast from Tanglewood this Sunday afternoon. In between the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony, all led by Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard, don't leave your radio during intermission. Brian Bell has prepared a feature that will look back on Steinberg and the immense influence he wielded in the ways people perceived and even felt about music over his 80 years. Other worthy destinations to learn about Steinberg include Jeremy Eichler's heartfelt obituary for the Globe, Mark Swed's very personal remembrance, and a tribute from Performance Today, a program you can hear every weekday on All-Classical WGBH.