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11/24/2013 - 'War Requiem': Classical act of defiance in the name of peace
'War Requiem': Classical act of defiance in the name of peace
by Richard S. Ginell
Can a serious, lengthy, topical piece of contemporary music make an impact beyond the classical music scene and possibly change the world a little bit in doing so? That's what happened with Benjamin Britten's unorthodox "War Requiem," which scored an unlikely immediate hit in 1962.
For James Conlon, who will conduct the "War Requiem" just days after the composer's 100th birthday, the piece has been a touchstone in his career. He has conducted it on special occasions, such as the 50th anniversary of V-E Day in Paris, and one month after 9/11 in Carnegie Hall. "I can remember the gasp at the end of that performance," he said about the latter. "I think the 'War Requiem' is not only great, it stands and will stand with the great choral masterpieces, right up there with Verdi and Brahms."
In 1958, Britten was commissioned to write a piece for the consecration of England's rebuilt Coventry Cathedral — which was all but destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in WWII. Yet instead of writing a conventional liturgical work, this lifelong pacifist juxtaposed the traditional Requiem Mass with antiwar poems by Wilfred Owen, a young soldier stuck in the trenches of WWI who was killed only a week before the armistice.
As a gesture of reconciliation among three antagonistic WWII European powers, Britten wrote the individual vocal parts for a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) and a British tenor (Britten's companion, Peter Pears). And he inscribed on the title page of the score Owen's withering words, "All a poet can do today is warn."
In order to gauge just how far out on a limb Britten was putting himself, one has to understand the times in which the piece was written. The Cold War was peaking; escalating tensions in Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam and other hot spots left little room for pacifism in the international debate; people by and large still trusted whatever the government told them.
So for Britten to use the structure of the Requiem Mass to make an antiwar statement in the face of perceived world opinion was a bold act of defiance.
Yet the people responded. The premiere in Coventry on May 30, 1962, and subsequent performances made enormous emotional impressions on audiences. Although the notoriously unsentimental Igor Stravinsky jeered, "Kleenex at the ready," critics by and large were bowled over on a first hearing; the Guardian thought the interpolation of Owen's texts into the Mass was "brilliantly done" and proclaimed it to be "undoubtedly one of Britten's masterpieces."
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11/23/2013 - Review: Boston Pops do their thing
Review: Boston Pops do their thing
by Timothy Mangan, for the Orange County Register
The Boston Pops, established in the late 1800s, has long made it OK to go to the symphony and have a good time, to tap your toes, clap along, sing along and maybe have a bite to eat at the same time. The orchestra plays some of the classical repertoire – no Mahler here – but also a lot of other genres, including jazz, rock, Broadway and film music. It offers the kind of light and wholesome entertainment that feels a little old-fashioned these days but that is still very popular with audiences.
The Pops is actually two orchestras – the granddaddy Pops, made up mostly of players from the Boston Symphony, and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, made up of other Boston-area musicians. It is the Esplanade Orchestra that we usually hear on tour in these parts. Longtime Pops conductor Keith Lockhart brought the Esplanades by Segerstrom Concert Hall on Friday night for a well-packed and well received Philharmonic Society concert.
The program, which was devoted mostly to American music, followed the established path of starting with classical music and getting lighter, and lighter, as it went along. It opened with a suitably fleet and raucous account of Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and then a hard-driving and muscular one of Copland’s “Buckaroo Holiday” (from the ballet “Rodeo”). The brass was having a good time, and fine brass they are.
I heard some grumbling about the amplification. Why the group even needed amplification in this hall was a question to ponder. But further, the amplification as it was used seemed to emphasize the sections of the orchestra that didn’t need it, namely the woodwinds, brass and percussion. In the end the amplification had two main effects: a certain revving up of the orchestra’s sound and a muddying up of its textures.
After a straightforward but finely wrought rendition of the Largo from Dvorák’s “New World Symphony” and a nicely swinging “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (Ellington), it was time for that pops crowd favorite, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with Michael Chertock as soloist. The performance was a good one, well oiled and lived-in, everyone involved at ease in the style and changing directions nimbly. Chertock proved a crisp and speedy soloist (though occasionally too speedy for clarity’s sake), giving the virtuoso flights plenty of steam. He also phrased with an intelligent sense of accent and curve.
Lockhart was the genial host throughout the evening, introducing the numbers with a little programmatic detail and a joke here and there. The musical gloves came off after intermission with arrangements of Warren and Dubin’s “42nd Street” (complete with a percussionist drumming with tap shoes, and twirling double basses), and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (with electric guitar) and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” These last two pieces weren’t really all that interesting as orchestral fare, nor were they performed with the cheesiness required for truly ironic enjoyment.
Vibrant and sparkling accounts of “Hedwig’s Theme” from “Harry Potter” and the “Flying Theme” from “E.T.,” both by John Williams of course, were followed by a “Cinematic Sing-Along” (“As Time Goes By,” “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” etc.) that Lockhart, with microphone, crooned along with the audience without embarrassing himself. He has a nice voice.
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11/20/2013 - Boston Pops orchestra bringing its best to the West Coast
Boston Pops orchestra bringing its best to the West Coast
by Susan King
The Boston Pops Orchestra, founded in 1885, gained national recognition during the substantial tenure of Arthur Fiedler, who was its music director from 1930 through 1979. John Williams left his own legacy conducting the so-called America's Orchestra from 1980 to 1993. That left big shoes to fill when the Boston baton was passed to Keith Lockhart, in 1995.
Lockhart, 54, has conducted some 1,500 Boston Pops concerts, appeared in more than 70 TV shows with the orchestra, including the annual "Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular" on CBS. He and the Pops have released eight albums with RCA Victor and four self-produced albums including the new "A Boston Pops Christmas — Live From Symphony Hall."
The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and Lockhart come to the Valley and Orange County this week, where they will be performing a wide-ranging program, including works by Williams (the Boston Pops laureate conductor), Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington, as well as new arrangements of songs by Queen and ABBA.
Lockhart discussed Fiedler's legacy, the Very Best of the Boston Pops Tour and the orchestra's holiday CD over the phone from his home in Boston.
How many concerts do you conduct in Boston every year?
The Pops collectively does about 100 concerts a year in Boston and another 20 concerts in other venues in New England, especially out in Tanglewood, our summer home.
You're also the chief conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. How do you juggle both batons?
I am over there probably only eight weeks out of the year, so it's a little less intense schedule than the Pops. It's a lovely relationship that allows me stay here most of the time. I have two small kids at home.
It's remarkable to think that Arthur Fiedler was the conductor of the Boston Pops for almost 50 years.
While Fiedler was here he managed to put the orchestra front and center through a lot of different venues. It was one of the first orchestras to record in this country and to record extensively. So extensively, that probably by World War II every house that had a gramophone had a Boston Pops record. It was the first orchestra to go on TV regularly with "Evening at the Pops," which started in 1970 and didn't stop until 2004. All of those things gave the orchestra a national branding, which we have tried to maintain.
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11/12/2013 - Review: Galway charms with Irish Chamber Orchestra
Review: Galway charms with Irish Chamber Orchestra
by Timothy Mangan, for the Orange County Register
The first orchestra of the season, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, showed up for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County on Monday night. The program was billed as an evening of “light classics,” and that it was, in an old school kind of way. There was plenty of lighter fare on the agenda, but none of it was pop, per se. And both halves of the program were anchored by substantial pieces by Mozart.
The first half of the concert belonged to beloved Irish flutist James Galway. He served as host of it as well, taking up the microphone between numbers to talk to the audience, conductor JoAnn Falletta and the orchestra his backup band. Galway is one of the few classical musicians who could also be called an entertainer, and nothing wrong with that, at least the way he pulls it off.
You know that he's going to tell a few stories and tell a few jokes in that melodious Irish brogue of his. You know that he's going to be dressed to the nines in ornamental finery. You know that he's going to charm the audience into complete submission – it's almost his shtick. Two things keep it from being a mere shtick, though. First, Galway seems to genuinely enjoy talking to the audience, and he does it casually, never pressing.
Second, he has no need of a shtick once he picks up the flute. He is a virtuoso of the first rank, of course, but also a musician of good taste. He may play sentimental tunes, but he plays them beautifully, purposefully, without gilding the lily. It helps, too, that many of the tunes he plays are Irish folk songs, with their potent mixture of sweetness and melancholy.
His set, and the concert, began with Hamilton Harty's “In Ireland,” for flute, harp and small orchestra. Composed in 1918, it is a fantasy on folk tunes, supplely scored (Harty was a noted conductor) and lovely to hear. Galway followed it with Mozart's Flute Concerto, K. 314, in an effortlessly precise and cheerful reading, varying his tone in subtle and magical ways. Falletta and the orchestra supported him actively, smartly.
His wife, flutist Jeanne Galway, joined him for a new work, Philip Hammond's “Carolan Variations,” again based on Irish tunes, these by harpist Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738). Hammond's work has a slow, ballad-like slow movement and a fast, neo-classical second movement characterized by rhythmic élan and harmonic adventure, much of it quite tart. An interesting and worthy piece.
A set of four encores followed. With Jeanne, he performed an arrangement of Mozart's “Rondo alla Turca,” and then, alone with the orchestra added, “Brian Boru's March,” “Danny Boy” (surely among the greatest tunes on earth) and the “Badinerie” from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2, which Galway gamboled through speedily.
And so, we were well into the second hour until we could properly focus on the Irish Chamber Orchestra, though its accompaniment for Galway had suggested a strong ensemble. Founded in the 1970s, the ICO has a core of 22 musicians, with 39 or so on hand Monday. The group is winding up a 13-city U.S. tour (Monday was the second to last stop) with Galway and conductor Falletta, the longtime conductor of the Long Beach Symphony, now with positions in Belfast (the Ulster Orchestra), Buffalo, Virginia, Phoenix and at the Brevard Music Center. She guest conducted the tour.
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11/7/2013 - Philharmonic Society Appoints Sean Samimi as new Artistic Administrator
Philharmonic Society Appoints Sean Samimi as new Artistic Administrator
Sean Samimi began music and piano studies at age 9. He later emigrated to the United States from Iran in 2001 to pursue classical guitar studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), where he was awarded the Rosalia Ablan Memorial Prize in Guitar. He pursued graduate studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and was nominated for USC’s chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda (Music Honors Society), in addition to an appointment as senator in the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, representing the Thornton School of Music. His mentors include Scott Tennant, William Kanengiser (GRAMMY® award-winning members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet), John Holmquist, Jason Vieaux, and Pepe Romero. During his graduate studies, he started his own artist management company, and later joined Opus 3 Artists as Managerial Assistant to the Executive Vice President of the Los Angeles office in 2009. In October 2013, he was named Artistic Administrator of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
Sean enjoys performing a few recitals and chamber music concerts each year. Upcoming performances will include chamber music performances in the San Francisco Bay area with members of the San Francisco Symphony in December 2013, followed by a January 12, 2014, performance at Davies Hall.