Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Wolff’

Harvard and NEC: partners in music at Sanders

February 4th, 2011 No comments

“One of the most beautiful products in all of French music”

– Stravinsky on Daphnis et Chloé

Daphnis and Chloe, 1961, by Marc Chagall

Dance is at the heart of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (symphonie choregraphique), inspired by the commission of the work by the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Composed by Ravel between 1909 and 1912, and premiered by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on 8 June 1912 with Pierre Monteux conducting, the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky danced the role of Daphnis.  Daphnis et Chloé is based on a Greek pastoral fable by the author Longus (3rd c. B.C.), but for the story of Daphnis (a shepherd) and Chloe (a shepherdess), Ravel’s intention was to paint “a vast musical fresco, less concerned with archaism than with faithfulness to the Greece of my dreams, which is similar to that imagined and painted by French artists at the end of the eighteenth century.”

In Daphnis et Chloé, Ravel created one of the most memorable scores in the history of ballet repertoire, and indeed of the orchestral repertoire, characterized by the quintessentially Ravelian union of vigorous rhythmic diversity, motoric energy, and refined lyricism.  More immortalized now in the orchestral repertoire than the entire ballet score, Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2, consists of Lever du jour (Daybreak), Pantomime, and Danse generaleSuite No. 2 was a symphonic fragment taken from the entire work by Ravel (from the Third Scene of Daphnis et Chloe) while he was creating the original ballet score.  It is Suite No. 2 that the New England Conservatory (NEC) Philharmonia will perform at 8pm, February 4, in Sanders Theatre, conducted by Hugh Wolff ’75, NEC’s Calderwood Director of Orchestras. Read more…

Maestro in the making

January 26th, 2011 No comments

Yuga Cohler '11 conducts Harvard's Bach Society Orchestra.

Yuga Cohler ’11, a computer science concentrator in Eliot House, is the 43rd music director of Harvard’s Bach Society Orchestra (commonly referred to as “BachSoc”), which was established in 1954 to study and perform works for chamber orchestra. He also serves as the assistant conductor of the World Civic Orchestra, with which he made his Carnegie Hall Isaac Stern Auditorium debut this past summer, performing Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

On February 1, Cohler was scheduled to moderate a public conversation with Hugh Wolff ’75, who served as BachSoc’s music director as an undergraduate; that event has been cancelled due to inclement weather. Wolff, the director of orchestras at New England Conservatory, is an acclaimed conductor whose interests span Baroque performance practice and the championing of new works. Harvard Arts Beat asked Cohler about BachSoc’s history and what it takes to be a maestro leading an ensemble of his student peers.

How do you think the Bach Society Orchestra has changed since Hugh Wolff led it back in the mid-70s?

It’s difficult to say if anything really has. The repertoire has expanded a bit—we now play more Romantic music (Brahms’ Second Symphony in our upcoming concert)—and I imagine we are a slightly bigger orchestra now; however, I doubt that the spirit of BachSoc has changed at all. We are, and probably always have been, characterized by the entrepreneurial drive and collaborative effort that comes from being an entirely student-run orchestra.

BachSoc’s name suggests that it focuses mainly on baroque and classical music. How is the ensemble’s repertory relevant to contemporary audiences and musical tastes?

Our name is somewhat of a misnomer. Although in the beginning, BachSoc focused primarily on Baroque repertoire and pieces by Bach, it has since evolved into a chamber orchestra which performs everything from Beethoven to Stravinsky. For better or for worse, our season this year includes not a single piece by Bach. As for relating to contemporary audiences, we generally try to include at least one modern piece per season—this year it was Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England. In addition, we hold a composition competition annually for undergraduate student composers.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned as conductor of BachSoc?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from music directing BachSoc, it’s that conducting is tremendously difficult. Aside from the obvious musical requisites (a good ear, solid sense of rhythm), a conductor—especially a student one—needs to strike the right balance between humility and charisma in order to be effective. It is a conductor’s job to lead an orchestra and point out the flaws and shortcomings in its playing; on the other hand, such direction can easily become abusive and overbearing. Aside from this, the music director is the face of the orchestra, in terms of marketing, publicity and so on. In this sense, the most important things I’ve learned from BachSoc have probably been more interpersonal than musical, more practical than theoretical.

Many people bemoan the fact that the audience for classical music is graying and dying out. What can orchestras and record labels do to bring in younger audiences, and keep them interested and engaged?

First, to some extent this is a misconception: There was never really a time when “classical” music could compete with the grandeur of today’s popular music. In Beethoven’s time, a concert was considered a success when 300 or so people came; now, the Boston Symphony gathers 2,000 people regularly. In this sense, I don’t worry about classical music “graying and dying out” any more than I worry about the same thing happening to Shakespeare’s sonnets.

At the same time, I do believe there are significant opportunities for classical musicians to benefit from the more popular forms of music. As someone (I forget who) once said, “There are only two types of music—good and bad.” As such, I see nothing wrong with the prospect of mixing and matching different types of music—as the Boston Symphony has done, for instance, with James Taylor at Tanglewood—provided, of course, that the music is good and the program coherent. Put another way: If someone like Lady Gaga were to offer to sing some sort of pop “concerto” on a BachSoc concert which concluded with a Beethoven symphony, I would say yes.

Due to inclement weather, “A Conversation with Hugh Wolff” presented by the OFA Learning From Performers program, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, February 1, has been cancelled. At 8 p.m. Friday, February 4 in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, Wolff will conduct the New England Conservatory Philharmonia in a program featuring works by Ravel,
Shostakovich and
Stravinsky. Information: 617.496.2222 (TTY 617.495.1642) or visit the Harvard Box Office website.

Harvard and NEC: Conducting expressivity

December 10th, 2010 No comments

Aram Demirjian '08 conducts the NEC Lab Orchestra under the incisive eye of Hugh Wolff '75. Photo: Andrew Hurlbut

Harvard conductors are pioneering the orchestral conducting program at New England Conservatory. With the vision of Maestro Hugh Wolff, NEC’s Director of Orchestras, the orchestral conducting program at NEC has taken on new form and new life with a highly selective, two-year graduate curriculum that is polishing the artistic leadership and musical character of talented young conductor, Aram Demirjian (Harvard ’08, NEC MM ’11). Aram is in the first class of conductors with only one other student, Joshua Weilerstein.

Photo: Andrew Hurlbut

Along with course work in score reading, instrumentation, orchestration, and performance practice, seminars and private lessons, Aram’s conducting skills are being developed to the fullest and will be on display 8:30 p.m. Friday, December 10 (tonight) at NEC’s Brown Hall in a concert free and open to the public, featuring Beethoven’s Overture to Leonore No. 3, Op. 72, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture (1870), and Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 38, Spring. See Harvard’s own Aram Demirjian in action on the podium — with his focused expressivity achieved by economy of gesture that I remember even from his days conducting my chamber group in Music 93r in ’07-’08 — conducting the NEC Lab Orchestra in its culminating concert of the semester.

Continuing my series of conversations about music with Hugh Wolff, today’s post presents Maestro Wolff’s views about Harvard composers, John Adams ’69, MA ’72, and John Harbison ’60, who help to shape the future of music as composers, critics, and intellectual American voices.

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Hear Maestro Wolff’s insights into the music scene and orchestral concert audiences in Frankfurt, Germany compared to those in North America. Maestro Wolff propounds that John Adams has worldwide appeal, known to international audiences, and compares this to North American audiences’ reception of new music. Maestro Wolff shares his ethos of programming new music, earning the trust of your orchestra, and feeling that new music should be a part of the mainstream of what an orchestra does — completely integrated into the concert subscription series. Read more…

How Harvard formed Hugh Wolff ’75

October 14th, 2010 No comments

“[Wolff] always stays at the heart of the music”
                               — Anne Midgette in the Washington Post, November 20, 2009


Photo: Andrew Hurlbut/New England Conservatory

Hugh Wolff’s strengths as a conductor were aptly described in a 2009 review of a National Symphony Orchestra concert in the Washington Post, together with Wolff’s qualities as “an urbane host,” making his interpretation of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony “an absolute delight.” Paris-born Wolff, director of orchestras at New England Conservatory, graduated in 1975 from Harvard College, where he concentrated in music composition and had the rare opportunity of the inspiration of Leonard Bernstein, who was a visiting scholar at the time.

Upon graduation, Wolff went to Paris, studying composition with Olivier Messiaen and conducting with Charles Bruck, a protégé of Pierre Monteux, from whom Wolff imbibed knowledge of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. After further piano study with Leon Fleisher, who stressed the German tradition, Wolff went to his first job as assistant to Mstislav Rostropovich at the National Symphony Orchestra in the nation’s capital. With Rostropovich, Wolff was immersed in the Russian repertoire and in the conductor’s legendary, emotional approach to music. All these musical strands, together with his exposure to the teaching of Harvard’s Leon Kirchner, the musical activism of Gerald Moshell (who was then a graduate student at Harvard) and the inspiring forum of the Bach Society Orchestra, provided Wolff with a profound musical background from which NEC and the Boston area now benefit.

In addition to concerts with the New England Conservatory Orchestras, Maestro Wolff will be conducting concerts in Belgium with the Orchestre National de Belgique this month, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in November, and with the Utah Symphony in December, along with concerts in Tokyo and Yokohama with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in December.

In a series of video interviews coming to you throughout the autumn, Maestro Wolff provides insights into his musical philosophy and transatlantic experiences as a conductor.

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