Happy birthday, Boulez!

Today CSO Conductor Emeritus Pierre Boulez celebrates a big milestone, which few people get to celebrate: He turns 90. In preparing to review the CSO’s “A Pierre Dream,” a multimedia retrospective of the conductor-composer’s life and career, I watched the following videos* of Boulez in rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic a few months ago. Alban Berg’s 3 Orchesterstücke and Boulez’s own Notations I–IV are featured.

*In German and English.

Book review: Mina Yang’s ‘Planet Beethoven’ an introduction, not a conclusion

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Yang “[explores] the complexities and significance of classical music today” in a pretty simple way.

I was excited when I was given Mina Yang’s recent release Planet Beethoven for Christmas. Shortlisted in a number of book recommendation lists for the new year, I was hoping for a novel response to an old, somewhat tired question: How is the concert hall going to continue to grow and expand in an era in which opportunities for expansion abound, but popular interest seems to be steadily declining? (Whether the latter is even true is contestable; pessimistic moaning over the fate of classical music is almost as old as the genre itself.)

Unfortunately, Planet Beethoven yields no new insights, instead conveniently collecting the insights of other experts into one place. Yang’s analysis is not so much her own as it is a catalogue of the musings of Alex Ross, Anthony Tommasini, Richard Taruskin, and others of their ilk. Independent, original thinking from Yang herself was wanting throughout. But to be fair, perhaps her intent was never to critically analyze her findings in the first place, only to systematically present them, preferably to an audience not well-versed in the issue at hand and who stood to learn a great deal from her foray.

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A dinner with death: Mahler’s existential Ninth with the SFS

Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS’s 2005 CD.

Some recent November—I don’t remember if it was the last, or the one before—my best friend and I compared our Thanksgiving dinners. I relayed a family member’s latest off-color remark with something of an inward groan. He told me, with a small smile, that he and his family had listened to Mahler’s titanic Symphony No. 9 as they carved the turkey.

Our exchange still sticks with me, and still baffles me. Mahler’s Ninth? At Thanksgiving? The Ninth, a haunting, sonic rumination on human mortality, is anything but background music. Call me over-sentimental, call me pretentious, but whenever I listen to Mahler’s last completed symphony, I need to both brace and pace myself emotionally, and moreover, I need to be able to listen to it in uninterrupted peace. Sometimes I go months at a time without listening to it, terrified that constant re-listenings will strip it of its power. (Not that that’s wholly feasible.)

Okay, so I guess it’s true: I’m obviously over-sentimental when it comes to this piece. But some of my reasons for this are extra-musical. Let me explain.

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Tianwa Yang pulls concerti of Castelnuvo-Tedesco into spotlight

Soloist Tianwa Yang and composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Violinist Tianwa Yang and composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

A week ago, I met Gil Shaham following his all-Bach recital at Orchestra Hall. During our brief conversation, I asked him if he’d heard of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

“Oh, I profeti?” Shaham chirped. “I have, but I have not played it.”

Excited, I told him that I had a soft spot for the oft-neglected piece and not-so-subtly tried to convince him to champion it as part of his ongoing project to record other, more enduring violin concertos of the 1930s. (“Whenever I hear it, I think of you!”)

Shaham, ever gracious, only politely smiled and thanked me. Ah, well. At least I tried.

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