“Then in a flash, it all came to me – streams, flowers, hills; the distant snow mountains in one direction and the blue Mediterranean in the other; the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where I now stood – the contrast of the ruin and the shepherd – and then, all of a sudden, I came back to reality. In that time I had composed the overture – the rest was merely writing it down.”
Many years ago on NPR’s Performance Today we developed an entire [summertime, natch] series around the topic, called Postcards from Composers. Amazingly, a few are still available online, included Dvorak’s reminiscences about his summer in Spillville, Iowa
The three months spent here in Spillville will be a happy memory for the rest of our lives. We enjoyed being here and were very happy….though we found the three months of heat rather trying! But it was made up for us by being among our own people…our Czech countrymen. And that caused us great joy. If it had not been for that, we would not have come at all.
…and Gustav Mahler’s yearning to get away from the bustle of Paris, in the grip of the 1900 World’s Fair, and head to the Austrian woods:
“The summer for me has been so glorious, I feel I am really and truly braced for the coming winter. If I can keep this up in the future, managing to get mental and physical rest in summer, then I shall always be able to lead…a human sort of life.”
“In projecting our very selves onto paper, or canvas, or clay, we literally have to lose our life….in order to save it in the shape of any tangible result of our labors. And to accomplish this at its highest and noblest, one thing above all is needed: Silence….and solitude.”
This is one of the pieces Beach wrote at the Colony: “The Hermit Thrush at Morn:”
Now all of the evidence is finally out – a collection of videos from the final concert in the New England Conservatory’s ambitious season-long series of thematic presentations called Truth to Power. Some absolutely cracking performances by Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia at Symphony Hall, with Yr Hmbl Srvnt as the video director/producer struggling to catch up.
We produced – and I’ve posted – the videos in reverse order from the actual concert. But now you can see how it began: With this blast of Beethoven. Enjoy!
This was the performance at the Symphony Hall concert by Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia (which happened to take place on Sergei Prokofiev’s birthday) that got the rock’n’rollers in the control all excited — this no-holds-barred performance by NEC Artist Diploma candidate Xiang “Angelo” Yu of the Violin Concerto No. 1. A piece that Prokofiev wrote around the time of the Russian Revolution (e.g., 1917), but not premiered until several years later in Paris.
The story goes that Prokofiev’s concerto took a while to catch on, particularly because despite the fact that the Paris premiere was led by no less a figure than Serge Koussevitsky, the soloist was not one of the major virtuosi of the day. As the late Michael Steinberg put it in his invariably-excellent program notes:
Marcel Darrieux, Koussevitzky’s Paris concertmaster, was a solid musician and an able violinist, but he lacked the spark to make a convincing case for the piece,
Might’ve been a different story if Angelo had played it!
Check out his thoughtful comments at the start of the piece, too, skillfully brought out by my co-conspirator James David Jacobs….
Following the post about the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, here’s the “guided tour” to the symphony, from the perspective of conductor Hugh Wolff and some of the brilliant young NEC Philharmonia performers. I really enjoyed putting this together with Andrew Hurlbut and the NEC video folks, with invaluable help from James David Jacobs.
So what is the Symphony No. 11? Shostakovich’s most Russian/ Mussorgskian work? A piece of cinematic agit-prop? A commentary on the crushed Hungarian uprising? A deeply reflective “Requiem for a Generation,” as Shostakovich claimed, according to [Solomon] Volkov’s controversial memoir? The work of a washed-up genius who, after 20 years of suppression, has succumbed to the political juggernaut? A beautifully organized work that speaks tragically to the inevitable recurrence of despotism?
–NEC website, April 2014
I have to be honest with you: After living with this symphony for the last two months, I still can’t make up my mind. Parts of it are searingly, heartrendingly poignant; others definitely veer towards the kitsch.
What I do know is that conductor Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia certainly rose to the challenge of performing this sprawling, hour-long symphony at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Regardless of the decidedly mixed critical opinion, it strikes me as a really hard piece to play, with a huge number of forces (celeste, two harps, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, full battery of percussion) being asked to play both with tremendous, brutish force as well as precise, controlled delicacy. Not to mention those moments of extreme, naked exposure – just ask the trumpets, horns, flutes, or bassoons! Or for that matter, just check out the achingly long lines of the English horn solo in the final movement.
Above all, it strikes me as a symphony requiring enormous concentration both to conduct and to perform. The symphony clocks in at just over an hour, after all. And from a producer’s perspective, I certainly was exhausted at the end! But all in a day’s work for Hugh Wolff, who did a masterful job of keeping all the forces together, and sculpting a shape and arc out of the sprawl.
Not to mention calming the NEC student’s nerves – playing in Symphony Hall for the first time in four years. Playing a piece that I was surprised to discover had never been performed by the hall’s “house band.” (Neither Seiji Ozawa nor James Levine were fans of DSCH, but…not even any guest conductors?).
This was the biggest and hardest of the three pieces on the program, (the others being the Beethoven “Egmont” Overture and the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1), and we’re going to produce them in reverse order. It’s all part of NEC’s season-long series of thematic presentations called Truth to Power, and I had the great pleasure of directing the shoot at Symphony Hall. Today’s post contains the whole symphony; the story behind it will come next.
Checking back in on the C.P.E. Bach Tricentennial, thought I’d share what the folks putting together the new Complete Works edition have deemed The Essential C.P.E. Bach : “a selection of the composer’s 25 ‘greatest hits’ of solo keyboard, chamber, and orchestral music.”
It’s a fascinating (and to my mind, rather obscure) list, containing several works which are utterly new to me, and will take a little further investigation. There are also a few “usual suspects,” like the Magnificat (previously discussed in this space), and some of the symphonies that get frequent spins in classical-radio-land. Like the first of the so-called “Hamburg” Symphonies, played below in terrific recording by Andrew Manze and the English Concert.