Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Hall’

New England String Orchestra with Sirota: the conductor’s view

December 4th, 2010 No comments

On Friday I posted an e-mail exchange I had with Nadia Sirota, an inspired interpreter and advocate of new music. Today I bring you Maestro Federico Cortese’s view of his intelligently programmed concert that takes place twice this weekend. Gems of artistic information always emerge in interviews with figures of Harvard’s life of the arts. It is significant to know that Cortese and Derek Bermel were fellows at Tanglewood together, a strong musical bond; Nadia has also been a fellow and New Fromm Player at the Tanglewood Music Center. This weekend’s concerts present our community with opportunity to experience musical fireworks that had their foundation in the Berkshires.  And, as ever, stay tuned for future fireworks from Cortese’s Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, including a forthcoming tour to Cuba!

Federico Cortese (Photo: Michael Lutch)

You have selected a fascinating and cutting-edge program for December 4 and 5, including Derek Bermel’s Soul Garden, which Nadia will perform as viola soloist. What were the inspirations to form this exciting program? Derek Bermel is an enlightened choice. Have you worked with Bermel’s compositions before?

With Derek, we were fellows together at Tanglewood, many years ago, alas. He is an extremely original and interesting composer. I always wanted to do his music. For several reasons I never had the right opportunity. It is a long awaited first collaboration. I really hope we can have many more.

Robert Spano is usually in the conductor slot, so the choice of Spano as piano soloist was also quite inspired.

Spano is just a fantastic musician and a wonderful pianist. I remember several chamber music and solo performances in New York (for instance a wonderful “Winterreise” with James Maddalena, if I am not mistaken). So I asked him if he wanted to play with us and he accepted with enthusiasm. He has in his schedule several other performances as a pianist, including with his own orchestra. I am really looking forward to this. It is always special to make music with friends.

Tell us about your work with the New England String Orchestra and its recent change of name from ensemble to orchestra. I fondly remember playing a recording of Brahms by the NESO under your direction that you brought to our HRO interview series on WHRB last year.

The board felt that orchestra was a name that described better our plan to expand the number of players and to include more often non string players when the repertoire requires it. We are a string orchestra, and we will continue to be a string orchestra: with non-string players as more frequent members. Ensemble sounds, just in terms of size, smaller.

HRO will be going on tour to Cuba. How did you and the orchestra decide upon Cuba for the tour? HRO and the New York Philharmonic are on the same page about musical work in Cuba.

I think that HRO should not travel for tourism. When we go on tour we should make a little statement about what a special group of Harvard students feel important. Our plans have nothing to do with what NY Phil had in mind. It is great that we agree from different angles on what is important to discuss in our artistic and political lives.

What are you most looking forward to about working with Nadia? Have you worked with her before?

I knew Nadia by reputation, not personally. I just met her and had a rehearsal with her. She is absolutely terrific.

A Harvard conductor and a cool contemporary musician

December 3rd, 2010 No comments

Derek Bermel is one of the hottest composers in the country, and his “Soul Garden” is featured in brilliantly programmed concerts that include Janacek, Bach and Beethoven at 3 p.m. on Saturday December 4 at First Parish Congregational Church in Wakefield, and at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 5 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Harvard’s Federico Cortese (the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra‘s Music Director) will conduct Nadia Sirota and the New England String Orchestra; Maestro Cortese will also lead an interactive discussion 45 minutes prior to each performance. Currently Artist-in-Residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, Bermel — who has a BA and DMA from Yale and the University of Michigan — is one of the most in-demand composers on the scene today. Sirota, a Juilliard-trained violist, is made-to-order to perform Bermel’s composition. Fluent in classical and popular music, Sirota is a strong advocate and interpreter of new music, including that of Nico Muhly, Marcos Balter and Judd Greenstein. New York-based music critic Alex Ross ’90, has called Sirota’s programs on Q2 of WQXR, “radio we can believe in.” Here is an interview with Nadia Sirota on the occasion of her performance under Maestro Cortese’s baton. 

Violist Nadia Sirota (Image:


Why did you go into arts media in addition to performing, and how is it an extension of or another facet of your musical voice and taste? 

I kind of slipped backwards into radio. After a classic post-graduate financial freak-out, I found myself ripping CDs into WNYC’s database, essentially organizing their iTunes library, or whatever, and was happy enough with what was pretty mindless, flexible labor. After a month or so, my boss got curious about on-air possibilities, and I hosted a succession of shows, eventually landing my current gig, a 4-hour weekday show devoted to Contemporary Music called Nadia Sirota on Q2. While this gig initially came as something of a surprise, I am really beginning to find my voice, in more ways than one. Not to sound too corporate, but pretty early on I developed a sort of personal mission statement: I really want to promote Classical Music to new audiences through the medium of New Music. While “being a radio host” isn’t in there, having this show as a platform definitely helps me promote new works in an interesting way, and thus it makes perfect sense for me to be doing radio in addition to performing. The kind of careful curation I do has also found a lot of resonance in concert programming, and vice versa. Actually, there tons of analogues between radio and live concerts. Also differences. Anyway, it’s kind of great to do both. 

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“Give Thanks”: A premiere and inspiration

November 8th, 2010 No comments

As one who has had the transformative experience of studying in Harvard’s unique chamber music course Music 180 with Yehudi Wyner and Daniel Stepner, I am happy to report on what the Boston Globe called the “keenly anticipated” premiere of Yehudi Wyner’s composition, Give Thanks for All Things for orchestra and chorus. The work had its world premiere on Friday, November 5 and Saturday, November 6 at Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory performed by the Cantata Singers and Ensemble and conducted by David Hoose, music director of the Cantata Singers. Give Thanks for All Things is based on two Psalms, poems by Richard Wilbur and Walt Whitman, a passage from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, and the Breton fisherman’s prayer, “Dear Lord be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.”

Wyner is an illustrious composer of works in a variety of genres. He is a pianist with a diploma in piano from Juilliard, a graduate of Yale and Harvard (where he studied with Randall Thompson and Walter Piston), and winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Music for Chiavi in Mano, which Wyner wrote for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Harvard pianist and professor Robert Levin. Wyner is also former head of the Yale University composition department, and was a member of the chamber music faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1975 to 1997, as well as professor emeritus and Naumberg Chair in Composition at Brandeis University. He is also a frequent visiting professor at Harvard. In addition, Wyner has held other distinguished academic posts and received honors, including the Rome Prize in composition, two Guggenheim Fellowships, as well as commissions from the Koussevitsky and Ford Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the interpreter of the Yiddish lieder of his father Lazar Weiner (1897-1982). Wyner, like his father, has made a great contribution to music related to the Jewish heritage.

Yehudi Wyner on stage after the performance of his "Give Thanks for All Things"

Also in the audience for the Wyner world premiere was Daniel Stepner, violinist and conductor, professor of the practice of music at Brandeis, preceptor in music at Harvard, first violinist for the Lydian String Quartet, and founding member of the Boston Museum Trio (in residence at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts). Stepner described Yehudi Wyner’s new choral/orchestral work, Give Thanks for All Things, as “a wonderful celebration of life in the face of it finiteness. As always, his music is bracing yet lucid, with tonal reference (one always knows where ‘down’ is) and beautiful texturing. The work is substantial and I wouldn’t be surprised in coming years to hear individual movements on choral concerts — a number of them will stand on their own, though there are also textual and musical motifs that thread throughout the piece and make the whole meaningful. The Cantata Singers under David Hoose did a marvelous job with it on (no doubt) too few rehearsals, as is the American way, given strained funding and virtually no government investment in such institutions.”

Robert Levin and Yehudi Wyner in Jordan Hall

Stepner also reflected upon Music 180: “Teaching Music 180 with Yehudi is always a pleasure. He was my teacher at Yale in the ’60s and early ’70s and he remains vital and interested in new things. His youthful demeanor is always inspiring. It’s interesting to me as preceptor  in the course how different his approach to teaching is to Professor Robert Levin, the usual teacher. Both are consummate musicians, both superb pianists, both have had a wealth of experiece, both wonderful communicators and (for me) colleagues — and yet so different. Let me count the ways….”

Let us “count the ways” in which Harvard artist-teachers touch our lives both in the Yard and beyond.

Trumpets shall sound — not Handel but ART

October 5th, 2010 No comments

NEC brass players in rehearsal

Having brought you reflections from Harvard’s golden-toned Sanders Theatre, I now send you news of another gem of a concert hall in Boston, New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. I recently dropped in to hear NEC brass players in rehearsal, polishing the shiny sonic hues of Augusta Read Thomas’s Fête, which will have its American premiere at 8 p.m., Tuesday, October 12, at Jordan Hall. Thomas has enduring ties to our region, having been a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard from 1991 to 1994 and a Bunting Fellow from 1990 to 1991 at what is now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

Thomas, who has been professor at Eastman and Northwestern, teaches regularly at the Tanglewood Music Center, and was the longest serving Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has had her work championed by the likes of Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, and Knussen. She will be present at the celebratory performance of Fête, which is dedicted to Shulamit Ran, Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago, on her 60th birthday. So stop by this free concert and experience  Thomas’s music, which has been described as a “brainy brand of modernism [revealing] a lively probing mind allied to a beating heart.”  The program also includes music by Debussy, Ellington, Gabrieli, Mozart, and Gunther Schuller.

The golden grandeur of New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall

Photos by Victoria Aschheim