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February 2024

Preview: Franz Welser-Möst with the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall

Franz Welser-Möst with the Vienna Philharmonic, 2/26/17
Franz Welser-Möst with the Vienna Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, 2/26/17

“Now, whenever I stand in front of them, it’s just making music with good friends.”                  Franz Welser-Möst

While the famously self-governing Vienna Philharmonic hasn't had a regular conductor for more than a century, Daniel Froschauer, the Philharmonic's chairman (and violinist) told the NY Times last month that they "secretly have two: Riccardo Muti and Franz Welser-Möst." And of those, only Welser-Möst has the additional distinction of being a former music director of the Vienna State Opera (2010-2014), to which all members of the Vienna Phil also belong. So, it's only fitting that these longtime colleagues - and fellow Austrians - return to Carnegie Hall this weekend for the first time since 2017 with a trio of programs that have a somewhat valedictory feel to them, perhaps reflecting Welser-Möst's recent announcement of his intention to dial back his conducting activities due to ongoing health issues. 

On Friday night, the Vienna Phil performs Bruckner's monumental 9th symphony, left incomplete at his death in 1896, and Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra, which flirts with tonality within the confines of the 12-tone system. Berg's teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, is featured on Saturday night's program (Variations for Orchestra), alongside music by Hindemith (Concert Music for Wind Orchestra), Richard Strauss (the Symphonic Fantasy from his opera Die Frau ohne Schatten), and Ravel (the ecstatic, grotesque La Valse). And on Sunday afternoon, they perform Mahler's otherworldly 9th symphony, which Welser-Möst recorded with Vienna just last year.

Limited tickets remain for both Friday and Saturday's concerts at or at the box office. Sunday's concert is sold out (check for returns), but you can hear it broadcast live at 2pm locally on WQXR 105.9FM or around the world at I'll be there on Saturday, and (one way or another) on Sunday; stay tuned.

A Tale of Two Orchestras: The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Music Center and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall

George Bejamin with the Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Music Center, 2/15/24

by Pete Matthews (in Cleveland, OH and Pittsburgh, PA)

Despite being several generations removed from their industrial heyday, both Cleveland and Pittsburgh punch well above their weight when it comes to cultural stimuli, maintaining world-class museums, universities, theaters, restaurants, and more breweries than you can shake a towel at. Not to mention orchestras, with one belonging to the so-called "Big Five" club of American orchestras while the other excels almost in spite of itself (more on that later). 

I was back in the Rust Belt last weekend, primarily to visit friends and family but also to catch some concerts. On Thursday night, I returned to Cleveland's Severance Hall (now officially the "Mandel Concert Hall at Severance Music Center" in recognition of a major gift) for the first time in nearly a decade. That name change isn't the only recent development at The Cleveland Orchestra: last month, music director Franz Welser-Möst, 63, announced he will be stepping down at the end of his contract in 2027, at which point he will have exceeded the tenure of George Szell, the legendary (and autocratic) architect of what is arguably America's finest orchestral ensemble

Having missed them during their visit to Carnegie Hall last month, I was happy to catch the TCO on their renowned home turf. On Thursday, they were led by the celebrated British composer George Benjamin in a bold, adventurous program of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. Maybe too bold for Cleveland tastes, as I was surrounded by several rows of empty seats in the orchestra, indicating that the TCO still hasn't fully recovered from the impact of COVID-19: as recently as last season, the orchestra was playing to half-full houses. (Anecdotally, my friend Joe, who's lived in Cleveland for more than a decade, assured me that Thursday nights are always a tough sell for the TCO.)

Continue reading "A Tale of Two Orchestras: The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Music Center and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall" »

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.

Continue reading "Boston Symphony Orchestra Brings Opera Back to Carnegie Hall" »