Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chameleons in the house

One of the groups that enlivens the Boston concert scene each year is the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and once you take a look at their programs (the first of their new season come up this weekend), you can probably figure out the origin of that name. Deborah Boldin, the group's founder and artistic director, has a true knack for taking different strains of chamber music from across the ages and across cultures and throwing them together in illuminating ways, an approach that has brought the group national attention. The Chameleons will be in our Fraser Performance Studio tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11am for a live performance, and true to form, they're bringing along a set of pieces with a kaleidoscope of colors from Mozart, Debussy, and Takemitsu. And remember, the show comes up again at 6pm on All-Classical WGBH, on both 89.7-HD2 and the All-Classical internet stream. (photo: Susan Wilson)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boston Musica Viva with composers John Harbison and Michael Gandolfi

This afternoon at 3pm on 89.7 and later this evening at 10pm on All-Classical WGBH, you can hear Boston Musica Viva, with their director, Richard Pittman, perform in our Fraser Performances Studio. Michael's music is always filled with rhythmic urgency and instrumental color, and any chance to hear John Harbison's music is sure to bring depth and meaning. Both composers will be in our studio, so I hope you can tune in. BMV begins their new season tomorrow night at the Tsai Performance Center in Boston.

Update (Sept. 28): Due to rights restrictions, I've removed the text for The Seven Ages, but the poems by Louise Glück used by John Harbison include







BSO Opening Night

The Boston Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 2009-2010 season last night with a concert that connected the past and the present in gorgeous sound. John Williams, the former Pops conductor and film composer, was on hand for the premiere of his Harp Concerto, which he calls "On Willows and Birches." It was written for Ann Hobson Pilot, who's just retired after 40 years with the BSO, and who played the piece with grace and precision. Also on the program was Debussy's La Mer, which the BSO premiered in the U.S. in 1907, only a couple of years after it was written. It's right in the center of the repertoire this orchestra built its reputation on, and last night showed why.

Boston Globe review here (with the title of the piano encore in case you were wondering...), and you can hear highlights from the concert on Sunday afternoon at 3pm on WGBH 89.7 and All-Classical WGBH.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And in the news...

Yes, you probably already know by now that the WGBH Educational Foundation is acquiring WCRB, the 60 year old 24 hour classical music station at 99.5FM in Boston. Since the announcement of this move yesterday, stories have been published in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, and commentary is available from, among others, Dan Kennedy, Radio-Info, and WBUR.

Many astute readers (not to mention some listeners who have contacted me personally) have commented that moving our classical programming to 99.5 will, because it is a lower power signal than 89.7, cut off a large segment of Boston's classical music audience. There is no doubt that 99.5 is a problem for most of the southern part of our listening region, but there are solutions that even a year ago weren't as viable as they are now.

The first is HD radio, a technology that, while slower to catch on than some predicted, has already allowed WGBH to get a head start on offering a 24/7 classical service. We've been running round the clock classical music on 89.7-HD2 for around three years. And when we begin broadcasting on WCRB, the plan is to carry that signal on 89.7-HD2. So yes, there's a bit of an investment involved in getting an HD radio, but if you're south of the Pike and you love classical music, I hope you'll consider it. I've had an HD radio in my car for a while now, and it couldn't be simpler to use. It's not too hard to track down an outlet to get an HD radio, but one place you might start is the NPR Shop.

Another way to access that same signal is via internet radio. See the previous post to get a few ideas for getting started, and, as promised, I'll take this up in a separate, upcoming post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And the winner is... you!

Nice starter piece in the Boston Globe this morning on internet radios, with a comparison of a few different models that allow you to access All-Classical WGBH without the necessity of being near your computer or tying up your iPhone. A couple of others not mentioned, but that I've heard solidly positive reports about, are the Aluratek AIRMM01 and the Tivoli NetWorks system. Check 'em out. More on internet radio in a future post, but suffice to say for now, this is one of the most exciting areas of radio development at the moment, and we're proud to be part of it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Classical Celtic ... or is it Celtic Classical?

Tune in this afternoon at noon for a Celtic Sojourn on 89.7, and hear the great gambist Jordi Savall's latest exploration. He's enlisted harpist Andrew Lawrence-King in a recording of Scottish and Irish music, and Brian O'Donovan invited me on the show to talk a bit about Savall and his background. If you're already familiar with Savall, you won't be disappointed. If not, this might be the perfect entry point in learning about one of today's great musicians.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Note by Note

A few years ago, the New York Times did a terrific series that tracked the construction of a new Steinway piano. If you were as fascinated by that piece as I was, you'll want to check out Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 tonight at 8pm on WGBH 2 (with several subsequent airings). Preview above.

Once you've felt the Steinway love, up next at 9pm is the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Concert 2009 (also with several subsequent airings).

And just in case you missed the live broadcast of the opening night of the New York Philharmonic, including the ravishing, gorgeous Poèmes pour Mi by Olivier Messiaen, there are a few more airings of that as well.

Who needs sitcoms?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nicolas Slonimsky on Classical Connections

From my colleague Michelle Sweet:

This month WGBH has been re-airing select episodes from the Classical Connections series for Classical Music Month. I spent a year putting together these short features that highlight just some of the stories about classical music happening in Massachusetts—both past and present. So during this special highlight month I thought it would be a great chance to bring back a small part of a documentary I produced back in 1994 about a significant, but little known musical genius—Nicolas Slonimsky. He made history when his Chamber Orchestra of Boston premiered Charles Ives Three Places in New England (albeit the premiere happened in New York, but we’ll just have to share that milestone with them.) In the middle of the three movements, Putnam’s Camp (located in Connecticut) there’s a section of the score where two competing bands are playing in different rhythms, in competing time signatures. The technical difficulty of one conductor leading what’s essentially these polyrhythmic sections was a nut that no conductor had attempted to crack. Until Slonimsky heard about it. Ives met Slonimsky through a mutual friend—composer Henry Cowell. Upon their meeting Slonimsky asked Ives if he might have a work Slonimsky could play with his Chamber Orchestra, and Ives suggested Three Places in New England, and offered to re-orchestrate it for the smaller ensemble. In his autobiography Perfect Pitch, Slonimsky says “The more I absorbed the idiom of Three Places in New England the more I became possessed by its power.” So he took it on and on January 10th 1931 history was made at Town Hall in New York.

This week on Classical Connections I’m bringing back the entire trilogy of features on the Ives masterpiece—one for each of the movements of Three Places in New England, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. Composer and professor and Ives scholar John Heiss walks us through the first and third movements. And for that second movement, I dug into my archived interviews of Nicolas to tell his story about premiering Three Places. And on Tuesday, as a prelude to listening to these modern works of art, composer and conductor Gunther Schuller makes some suggestions for how to approach listening to contemporary music.


Saturday, September 12, 2009


Just caught a particularly compelling documentary on the legendary Herbert von Karajan on WGBH 2 a couple of nights ago (preview clip above). It's showing again on WGBH 44 on Sunday, Sept. 13 at 4:30. What I found especially interesting was a segment in which rehearsal and performance clips of Karajan and Leonard Bernstein are shown in relatively rapid alternation, the point being that both were geniuses who managed to obtain transcendent results, but through vastly different means. Tape it, TiVo it, or just block it out on your schedule. You won't be sorry.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Flanders Recorder Quartet and more from the Boston Early Music Festival

When I was playing trumpet for a living, it was invariably astounding to people that I owned 9 different kinds of trumpets. Turns out, that's actually about average for most professional trumpeters I know, maybe even a bit low. Tools of the trade, as they say. But then there's the Flanders Recorder Quartet (above), who told me in June after their Boston Early Music Festival concert that they had about 40 different kinds of recorder on stage with them that night.

Well, you can get a taste of that concert on Saturday at 10am in the second of our special concert presentations from the 2009 Boston Early Music Festival. Also on the program is the BEMF debut of Zefiro, a lively wind ensemble from Italy, and the North American debut of Stile Antico, the vocal ensemble from England, who sang an exquisite and ravishing concert based on their most recent recording, Song of Songs.

And by the way, if you missed last week's special with the Ricercar Consort and host Cathy Fuller, you can listen to it whenever you want online, where all of these programs will be archived.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

As it was in the beginning...

As the next season of the Boston Symphony Orchestra approaches, this is an ideal time to visit the BSO web site and take a look and listen at the features our producer Brian Bell has archived there. If you've heard Brian's work at intermissions during our live broadcasts from Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, you already know how thoroughly he digs into all kinds of things, from straight ahead interviews with conductors and guest soloists to guided tours of specific works on the program to profiles of BSO players. In fact, a friend of mine who recently moved to Boston from Cleveland, where he was a subscriber to that city's great orchestra and listened to them on the air on WCLV, was astonished and delighted to hear one of our broadcasts and the context Brian and host Ron Della Chiesa gave to the concert.

Especially interesting at this time are the pages Brian put together devoted to the first music director of the BSO, Georg Henschel. When you take a listen to the feature about him and check out the programs from that fall of 1881 when it all got started, you'll find one particular name figuring as prominently on programs as it does now physically at Symphony Hall: Beethoven. During that first season, Henschel conducted the orchestra in all of Beethoven's symphonies, and, in fact, did the same thing during each of the next two seasons. And I think it's safe to say that running the entire cycle wasn't born out of a lack of new ideas. Rather, it was no doubt because Henschel knew that Beethoven's symphonies as a unit make up one of the best ways to forge an orchestra's sound and put it on display. And James Levine is now ready to do the same thing, with all nine of Beethoven's symphonies scheduled within three weeks, from late October to early November.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Met's Orfeo ed Euridice on Opera Bash

We're in the midst of an annual weekend long celebration of opera at WGBH, with scads of fantastic operas programmed for WGBH Channel 44. You're not going to go wrong with any of them, but the one I'm targeting is at 5pm on Sunday. It's Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, in a production by Mark Morris, with costumes by Isaac Mizrahi. Aside from the extraordinary and heartfelt performances by Stephanie Blythe as Orfeo and Danielle de Niese as Euridice, what I really loved when I saw the production earlier this year was the modernist conception of the staging. Morris's choreography transports the music from its ancient roots into what to me feels like a more relevant place. And Mizrahi not only has something to say through his costumes for the main characters, but also clearly had some fun with the Greek chorus, who, standing on a movable scaffolding throughout the action, impersonate dozens of famous historical figures, from Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth to Gandhi and Jimi Hendrix, all coming together as the entirety of humanity in the afterlife. Reviews were positive, mixed, and negative, all of which tells me that it's worth paying attention to. Personally, I loved it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ricercar Consort from the Boston Early Music Festival

Each Saturday at 10am during September, we're featuring a fantastic array of performances from this year's Boston Early Music Festival, and it kicks off on the 5th with the Ricercar Consort from Belgium. My colleague Cathy Fuller spent some time with the group and their director Philippe Pierlot when they were in town for a June 11 concert at Jordan Hall. Listen especially for the remarkable
soprano Céline Sheen singing some gorgeous love letters in song.

Coming up next week on the 12th, it's the Italian ensemble Zefiro, Stile Antico, and the Flanders Recorder Quartet.