by Daniel Hathaway
The Cleveland Orchestra’s fourth In Focus episode featuring guest conductor Nicholas McGegan, previously announced for today, has been rescheduled for viewing beginning on Thursday, December 10. Meanwhile, read Mike Telin’s interview with the always charming McGegan here. The wide-ranging conversation touches on such subjects as “Bach, Mendelssohn, Masks, and Mysteries.”
Since radio stations are already dipping toes into Christmas music, the time is ripe to note some changes to long-established traditions this season due to the pandemic.
We read in an article in England’s The Guardian that the annual King’s College Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be presented as usual on Christmas Eve, but to an empty chapel for the first time since the service began in 1928. “We broadcast all the way through the second world war,” said Dean Stephen Cherry. “The location wasn’t disclosed but it was an open secret that it was King’s, partly because people said they could hear paper flapping in the windows where the glass had been removed [in case of bomb damage].”
The article includes updates on John Ruttter’s annual Royal Albert Hall Christmas Concerts (moved to St. Alban’ Cathedral, but no audience permitted) and changes to Christmas musical traditions at London’s Church of St. Martin in the Fields.
On the local scene, we’ve already reported that The Cleveland Orchestra has cancelled its popular Christmas Concerts at Severance Hall, and that Apollo’s Fire’s Christmas On Sugarloaf Mountain concerts will be replaced with a video recorded at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2018.
Summit Choral Society’s Candlelight Concerts will also go digital, and the Western Reserve Chorale is turning to its archives for three Friday evening winter concerts.
And Trinity Cathedral’s well-attended annual Messiah Sing will be replaced in these days of physically distancing with excerpts from that Brownbag Concert event from previous years.
Speaking of Messiah Sings, Toronto’s period instrument orchestra Tafelmusik has announced the rebroadcast of its Sing-Along Messiah, captured live at Koerner Hall in 2010, when “Mr. Handel himself” conducted the Orchestra, soloists, and “an audience of 1000 enthusiastic ‘sing-alongers.’ It airs on YouTube during a watch party on December 17 and remains available through December 26.
NEW MUSIC FOR VOICE AND PERIOD INSTRUMENTS:
Cornetto virtuoso Bruce Dickey writes from Bologna that he has commissioned two new works for a new CD, On the Breath of Angels, featuring his Breathtaking Collective and soprano Hana Blažíková, and due for release in January. “We have made a video of one of them, a gorgeous piece by Julian Wachner on a poem from 1906 by Rupert Brooke.” Wachner, who directs the music at Trinity Church, Wall Street in New York, guest conducted Apollo’s Fire in cantatas from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December, 2019.
MEET DAME ETHEL SMYTH:
Another current article in The Guardian introduces a composer almost unknown to American audiences. “Expanding the classical canon brings us incredible music and extraordinary stories, not least that of Ethel Smyth, whose compositions and pioneering energy filled England in the interwar years.”
Italian luthier Nicola Amati was born on this date in 1596 in Cremona. The most prominent member of the Amati dynasty, Nicola is said to have greatly influenced the work of Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri, although his cellos and violins appear more frequently in museum exhibits than in the hands of today’s artists.
Austrian composer Anton Webern was born on December 3, 1883 in Vienna, and died in Mittersill in 1945. An American soldier accidentally shot him when he lit up a cigar outside his daughter’s house during the postwar Allied occupation. Webern’s life and compositional history are impossible to describe in a few paragraphs. Suffice to say that he came onto the scene writing late-Romantic music like the Langsamer Satz (played here in a follow-the-score performance by the Emerson String Quartet), and ended up crafting exquisite, pointillistic works like his Five Pieces (played here by the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the direction of Matthias Pintscher in April, 2018 — total performance time: six minutes). Cleveland’s BlueWater Chamber Orchestra played the Langsamer Satz during its recent collaboration with Verb Ballets.
And on this date in 1914, American composer Irving Fine was born in Boston. We marked the anniversary of his death in the August 22-23 diary last summer: “His music hasn’t been played often outside the Boston area, but his Serious Song, Lament for String Orchestra, composed in 1955, seems appropriate for the anniversary of his premature leave-taking. Listen here to a recording by Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony from 1962.
Two more historical events pop up on December 3. That was the date in 1833 when Oberlin College opened its doors for classes, making the Ohio school the first “coed” institution of higher learning in the United States. And on this date in 1992 — for better or for worse — an engineer for the Sema Group used his personal computer to send the first-ever text message to a colleague over the Vodafone network.