Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where Others Fear to Tread

Leon Botstein has yet another fabulous season programmed for the American Symphony Orchestra. I realize that this kind of programming is simply not possible for an orchestra that puts on 25 to 30 programs and up to 120 performances, annually; I just wish one of my local orchestras were performing these rarely-heard works (okay, the Beethoven symphonies are not rarely-heard). The main schedule is for Lincoln Center:

Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal (Oct 14, 2009), composed in 1893, is a rare masterpiece from the golden age of French Romantic opera. Fervaal continues ASO’s remarkable series of such operas in recent seasons, which have included Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-bleue, Chausson’s Le roi Arthus, and Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys. Like his contemporary French composers, d’Indy was inspired by Wagner, but both Debussy and Dukas considered Fervaal even better than Wagner’s epics. After ASO’s performance in 2008-09 of Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys, Opera News wrote: “Leon Botstein once again enriched New York’s concert-opera scene.

The Remains of Romanticism” (Nov 15, 2009) will present proof positive that the presumed death of Romantic music through the advent of modernism at the turn of the 20th century was a myth. Although it seemed in danger of becoming obsolete, music by many serious and successful composers saved it from extinction. Some of the greatest of the age tried to revive Romanticism through formal innovation, others by connecting it to a narrative or programmatic scheme. Hear the unexpected results of their efforts in these great works by composers like Robert Fuchs and Richard Strauss, some of which have never been heard before in the United States.

“An American Biography: The Music of Henry Cowell” (Jan 29, 2010) paints a portrait of the spiky and unique west-coast master (1897-1965), whose prodigious and eclectic output mirrors the energy and optimism of America in his day, and the countless traditions, customs, and conventions that make up the nation’s rich culture. Cowell experimented with everything from Japanese instruments to electronic music, and was a legendary influence on American composers from George Gershwin to John Cage and even many of today’s most adventurous composers. Virgil Thomson, Cowell’s contemporary, noted, “His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, ‘advanced.’”

The concert theme “After the Thaw” (Feb 24, 2010) refers not to the weather but rather the thaw in the Soviet Union’s artistic scene after Josef Stalin’s death in 1953. It resulted in a blossoming of new musical life in the Soviet Union, and a flow of compositions full of ideas and innovations that only a short while before would have caused a one-way ticket to Siberia for the “offender”. ASO’s 2008 program of Russian Futurists presented composers who thrived briefly just before Stalin rose to power, and this season’s “After the Thaw” will demonstrate – with works by Alexander Lokshin, Boris Tchaikovsky, and Boris Tishchenko – what went on in the Soviet music scene after “Uncle Joe’s” iron grip on the USSR was finally released.

With “Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust” (April 9, 2010), ASO completes Robert Schumann’s great trilogy of oratorios (after Manfred and Das Paradies und die Peri). The greatest poetic retelling of the enduring story of a man selling his soul to the devil – Goethe’s Faust – is set to music by a Romantic composer who knew all too well what it was like to be haunted by demons. For the bicentennial of Robert Schumann’s birth, ASO performs the third of Schumann’s great dramatic oratorios, composed on selections from Goethe’s two-part Faust.

The theme of “Apollo and Dionysus” (May 9, 2010) contrasts the rational with the emotional. Philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche used these eternally opposed mythological figures to represent human nature at war with itself. It’s the struggle of those torn between reason, discipline, and formal beauty on the one hand, and sensuality, earthly pleasure, and desire on the other. Find out which side you’re on with this concert of music inspired by the Greek gods of enlightenment and wine. Compositions by four European talents of the 20th century – England’s Arthur Bliss, Italy’s Luigi Dallapiccola, Germany’s Hans Werner Henze, and France’s Albert Roussel – make up the program.


In addition to the above schedule, the orchestra will continue its popular “Classics Declassified” series, now at Symphony Space and expanded to six concerts in the new season, on Sundays at 4 pm and Tuesdays at 7 pm. The concerts, preceded by illuminating lectures, will include five Beethoven Symphonies and provide a definitive look at these key works of the symphonic canon. “Classics Declassified” kicks off on October 18, and full details will be announced separately. Up at the Richard B. Fisher Center, the ASO can also be seen performing in the venue’s Winter Series.


Anonymous said...

You fiend! (For telling us this.) I cannot not attend the Henry Cowell concert, but how on earth I can justify the expense of a trip to New York for a concert, I can't imagine.

And the others I'd run to in a minute if I were anywhere nearby - Tishchenko, and I see this spring they're doing Grant Still and Ben-Haim. Oh, pflooey that it's so far from me.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I know, I know!

I've seen the ASO only once, in the summer of 2006. Botstein's not a great conductor, but he is a genius at programming. I can't justify the travel cost either!

Henry Holland said...

^^ That's it exactly, he's great at digging out lost pieces, but my experience with his conducting on CD (the Voigt Die Agyptiche Helena and Die Liebe der Danae) and live (the Bard King Roger, which I stupidly went to instead of the Santa Fe Adriana Mater) is he's kinda dull.

Still, a bunch of new German names to check out. Mmmmm.......late romanticism...mmmmm.

Lisa Hirsch said...