Tuesday, April 13, 2021

When Boston ruled the music world

When I moved to Massachusetts in the mid-1970s to begin my doctorate at Boston University, there was a distinguished professor I wanted to study with: the formidable pianist Leonard Shure.

But Shure was hardly the only famous pedagogy in Boston. The city has been the center of educational music until that time, with prestigious programs from Harvard, Brandis and Boston University, the New England Conservatory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

However, until I arrived, I did not realize what the Boston area was central to contemporary music; From a distance, the city I think was very traditional and traditional for it. But in its own button-up New England, it was a modernist attraction. Each of those institutions was like a petty thief, with the eminent musician on the faculty. Each maintained an active student ensemble, with many devoted exclusively to new music.

If you wanted to be on the front lines of the fight between serious “Uptown” music and rebellious “Downtown” postmodernism, you went to New York. If you were drawn to the Mavericks and were intrigued by non-Western cultures, especially Asian music, you would likely find your way to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

But if you wanted a classic education, studying with a true master musician – and at the time, almost all major university musicians were white men – you went to Boston. But the music that emerged there in those decades faded in favor of the work of other American cities.

However, not entirely. Keeping that legacy alive is part of the mission’s mission Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Celebrating it 25th Anniversary This year, and its record label is BMOP / sound. The ensemble champions modern and new music from all sides. But according to its founder and artistic director, Gil Rose, 40 or 45 percent of its recordings are by Boston area creators.

Several recent releases have brought me back to my first years in the city, when musicians worked extensively in those various educational institutions. Three of the recordings are particularly exciting: Gunther Schuller’s unseen opera “The Fisherman and His Wife” and albums by the orchestral works of Lincoln Kirchner and Harold Shapero.

Shuler, Joe Died in 2015 At the age of 89, he was once described as a “high school dropout without an earned degree”. Technically it was true. But he was a Protian musician who in his late teens won the position of chief horn in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and then moved to the Metropolitan Opera two years later, where he held the same position until 1959. Recorded in jazz groups with the likes of Miles Davis.

When I moved to Boston, Schuller was in the final years of his transformational tenure as president of the New England Conservatory. There he founded the first degree-giving jazz program at a major American conservatory – bringing pianist Ran Blake to the chair as well as hiring veterans to create it, including Zaki Byrd and George Russell was involved.

Looking at decades of creative practices, he has coined the term “third wave” to describe music from both classical and jazz genres today. Scholler, who was composed as a composer for 12-tone idioms, although not in the strictest sense, also appointed the brilliant modernist Donald Martino to lead the composition faculty. He had all the locations. Schuller taught at the Tanglewood Music Center for two decades, serving as artistic director for 15 of those years, until 1984.

For all his formidable skills and vision as a musician, Schuler can be more consequential on behalf of contemporary music as a teacher, mentor, conductor and a tireless (sometimes incisive) agitator and author of the music himself There may be composers living in the form. This notion seems inappropriate for a long time, but it persists. Although fine pieces from his large catalog are attracting attention, “The Fisherman and His Wife” falls short.

It was commissioned by the Junior League of Boston as a children’s opera, and was first performed in 1970 by Sarah Calwell’s Opera Company of Boston – although Caldwell had another composer in mind for the project When he worked with the imposing scholar himself.

The 65-minute opera, based on a familiar story by the Grimm brothers, is performed by none other than John Updike. As the story unfolds, a lowly fisherman makes repeated trips to the restless sea to summon a magical fish, which he has caught and released – the fish is in fact an enchanted prince – and his wife’s growing up Another of grandmother’s wishes is to ask for a grant. Scholars deliberately, yet subtly, organize the score like a theme and variations. With the most courage, he wrote entire portions of the score in his trademark modernist language – immersed in, but not behold, a 12-tone approach, with some jazz folded into the cord.

A 12-tone opera for children?

Still Shuller had something to do. The story is filled with darkness, strangeness, magic, a threatening sea and cloudy skies, bitter confrontations between wife and husband. Why not express it through flinty, atonal music? Voice lines are written with the skill to make the words come across clearly. Updike introduces a feline character, who both greeted and spoke, a catchy role that Schuler assigned to the high soprano. The orchestration is alive to the small ensemble, with innumerable sonarities and captivating colors.

Although released last year, BMOP / Sound Recording was produced in 2015 in association with Odyssey Opera, founded by Rose Semi-staged concert. Commanding as the wife of Major-Souprano Sondra Kelly, Plaid Tenor Steven Goldstein as Fisher and the sturdy baritone David Kravitz as Magic Fish are excellent – and Rose draws a brilliant, catchy, mysterious draw from the orchestra. I may be wrong, but with a vivid staging, I think an audience of children would respond well to this.

Scholler, an accomplished, precise conductor, wrote a comprehensive book about conduct. Across the river at Cambridge, respected musician and Harvard professor Leon Kirchner also had a following as a conductor, though he was not the most skilled technician. However, he was a skilled pianist and an investigative musician who understood how the pieces should go.

In 1978, with the support of a dean at Harvard, Kirchner founded the Harvard Chamber Orchestra, a professional ensemble of freelance players fully organized to allow Kirchner to conduct independent, regularly packed concerts. Could. Along with those dedicated players, he led scores such as Debut’s “La Mer” and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony as he wrote them. A notable 1984 account of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Peter Serkin as soloist was recently released A vardanta world record released, And it is as exhilarating and deep as I can remember.

As a musician, Kirchner was powerfully influenced by his teacher Arnold Schönberg. Like Scholler and others of his generation, Kirchner adopted the aesthetic and approach of 12-tone music but with freedom and temperament, unbound by strict rules. I remember him being narrow-minded about the composer, who would inevitably cling to tonic harmonic languages ​​- let alone give them minimalism, which he could not follow.

But I have always admired the depth, imagination and wide complexity of his music. Those qualities abound in five orchestra pieces on a riveting BMOC / sound recording from 2018 – in particular 11 minutes of music “for orchestras” from 1969. It is a transforming score that feels subdued while waiting to lie, as if it can break the songwriter’s broad vibe at any time. And sometimes, the rashes do through a cascade of rocks and taming bursts.

Lynn, Mass. In 1920. Harold Shapero, born in May, was perhaps the most popular American musician of his generation, including his friend Leonard Bernstein. As a student at Tanglewood, Shapero deeply influenced Aaron Copland. He caught the attention of his idol, Stravinsky, when he came as a guest of musician Harvard, where Shapo was a student.

Shapero said of Stravinsky’s adoption of the neo-classical style, a setback to American spunk and unfiltered introversion. From 1940 to 1950, he produced a successful series of ambitious works, including his challenging 45 minutes. Symphony for classical orchestra, Formed in 1947. Bernstein accepted the piece and led the premiere in 1948 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He recorded it on the same busy day in 1953 with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. The work then disappeared until André Previn discovered it and led a triumphant performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1986, and later recorded it. You can make a case for this piece because it is one of the great American symphonies.

The BMOC / Sound album includes the Shapero Serenade, a 35-minute, five-movement score for the string orchestra from 1945, attempting to make Shapero essentially musically and modernly challenging while writing in a neo-classical idiom. Used to be. The first movement is an entertaining junk of counterpoint, yet somehow transparent. Menusetto is like a diatonic retort of Schönberg’s 12-tone minuets. Slow is weighty and searching, yet harmoniously plagued and riddled with tension. Finale is frantic, pointy and surprisingly jumpy.

In 1950, Shapero helped start the concert of the newly founded Brandis. The department soon became the unofficial headquarters of the composer’s “Boston School”, as it was called, which included Irving Fine (who died in 1962 at 47) and Arthur Berger. The trio began as Stravinsky-influenced Neo-Classicists. But over time, Fine and Berger gradually adopted their brands of 12-tone writing, which, for better or worse, were catching on in universities as the de facto language of modernism. Shapero, who Died in 2013, Explored technology but never got along. He composed at least until he had a new explosion of creativity running Brandis’s electronic music studio.

But he was a great mentor to countless student musicians. And his life gave a lesson, a kind of warning: stick to your guns; Do not be afraid; Write the music you want to write. They were eagerly taking lessons in the explosion of creativity happening in Boston.

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