Boston Symphony Orchestra Brings Opera Back to Carnegie Hall

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Carnegie Hall, 1/30/24
by Pete Matthews

While I will always and forever cherish my summers seeing the Boston Symphony Orchestra up in their summer home at Tanglewood, it's always a treat (not to mention a convenience) to catch them here in NYC, where they've played Carnegie Hall just about every year since it opened in 1891. Some of those concerts have been among my most memorable experiences at Carnegie, such as Seiji Ozawa leading a 2001 performance of Berlioz' Requiem in tribute to the victims of 9/11, or the gargantuan forces assembled for Mahler's 8th symphony in James Levine's first appearance as Music Director in 2004.

The BSO returned to Carnegie this week with a pair of concerts under current Music Director Andris Nelsons that displayed an impressive breadth of repertoire. On Monday, they performed a colorful program that included Tania León's Pulitzer Prize-winning Stride, Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (with Seong Jin-Cho) and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I wasn't in the hall that night, but was able to hear the concert from the comfort of my couch thanks to WQXR's Carnegie Hall Live program; the Rite, in particular, was both deliberate and ferocious. (Soon, you'll be able to hear an archive broadcast of the concert here.)

I did, however, make it to last night's performance: an ambitious concert performance of Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. (The performance was rescheduled from April 2021 due to COVID.) Under Nelsons, who grew up in Latvia (formerly part of the Soviet Union), the BSO has recently completed a decade-long survey of Shostakovich's symphonies (all recorded for Deutsche Grammophon), so it's only natural that they now turn to Shostakovich's one traditional opera. (His earlier absurdist experiment The Nose appeared at the Met for the first time in 2010.) Begun when Shostakovich was only 24, Lady Macbeth shows a remarkable command of orchestration, a bounty of colorful, expressive singing - and one helluva juicy story about a woman trapped in a sexless marriage who seeks out - and finds - sex with someone else. Which leads to all kinds of trouble.

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Winter Jazzfest 2024 - Manhattan Marathon

Winter Jazzfest 2024 Lineup

by Dan Lehner

Editors Note: Both Dan and I were originally supposed to cover this year's Winter Jazzzfest, but your's truly got COVID on Wednesday, so I've been self-isolating all weekend. I'm still hoping to make it out to Wednesday (1/17) night's Ryuichi Sakomoto tribute at Roulette with DJ Spooky, Yuka C. Honda; tickets available here.

In 2004, Winter Jazzfest’s first roster counted a total of 20 bands claiming the three floors of the Knitting Factory’s old Manhattan location on Leonard Street, occurring as a one-night-only event. Twenty years later, the festival now boasts 700 artists over 9 days over several miles of both Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate, with two evening-length marathons and a kaleidoscope of one-night presentations and talks that span subgenres, historical tributes, artist-in-residence curations - and all the work by artists young and old that’s worthy of showcase under the broad banner of “jazz”. For financial and spatial reasons, it behooves festival-goers to be selective about where they spend their time, but Friday's Manhattan Marathon gave audiences a chance to slice through a concentration of clubs in the East and West Villages to sample some of the best new sounds to check out in 2024.

Kicking off a three-set 70th birthday celebration at Bowery Ballroom, veteran guitarist Marc Ribot was ripping through melodies at a searing intensity with his “New Trio”, featuring bassist Hilliard Greene, long-time collaborator Chad Taylor on drums and special guest James Brandon Lewis on saxophone. Though separated by about 30 years in age, Ribot and Lewis’s compatibility was extremely obvious; both men favored the radical simplicity of melodies more related to folk music (which is to say, touching on gospel, blues, Woody Guthrie and punk rock) than contemporary harmonic constructions. Songs were free in form and time but with dynamic contours; a Led Zeppelin-ish rock tune would burst into free jazz flames before settling into spoken word. Taylor worked as both catcher and instigator, moving from restless jazz to stadium rock as the music necessitated, and Greene complemented Ribot’s musicality with both Mingusian bowed bass and rock n’ roll bombs he literally bent the bass forward to drop. (After I left, Ribot played in a duo with fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson, followed by a set with his longtime band Ceramic Dog.)

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Christmas on Fifth Avenue with the Saint Thomas Boys Choir

St Thomas Boys Choir, St. Thomas Church, 12/14/23When it comes to live performance, many of us have our annual holiday traditions here in NYC. For some, it's Handel's Messiah; for others, it's The Nutcracker at NY City Ballet, or one of the five daily performances of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. But, for me, it just isn't Christmas in New York without the annual concert by the acclaimed Boys of the Saint Thomas Choir at Saint Thomas Church, an oasis of calm in the center of the chaotic Fifth Avenue shopping corridor.

When I first started attending this concert twenty years ago, Director of Music John Scott would perform an astonishing double-duty, leading the boys in Britten's Ceremony of Carols before taking his place behind the organ console to perform Messiaen's 70-minute meditation, La Nativité du Seigneur. Sadly, that tradition ended with Scott's untimely death in 2015, although his successor Daniel Hyde - now the Director of Cambridge's renowned King College Choir - would continue the annual tradition of performing Britten's Ceremony, which dates back to the 1970's. (Hyde did perform the Messiaen once, on a separate recital in December 2018.)

For this year's concert, which was completely sold out, Director of Music Jeremy Filsell dispensed with both the Britten and Messiaen, choosing instead a custom program of carols generally from the English tradition, both traditional and contemporary. On Thursday, the boys were accompanied by the string players of Juilliard's Music Advancement Program under their director Catherine Birke, as well as by Saint Thomas' Associate Organist Nicolas Haigh (who performed La Nativité du Seigneur in a near-empty nave in December 2020.)

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