Let's rock

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  January 25, 2010

In other BSO news: WGBH radio has ended its 58-year tradition of live Friday-afternoon BSO broadcasts, leaving only the Saturday-night live BSO broadcast intact. Following its acquisition of WCRB last month, 'GBH has relegated all its classical music to that station, whose much weaker signal — 27,000 watts, with its transmitter in Lowell — does not reach the South Shore or Rhode Island. Some 400 disgruntled listeners filled Old South Church on January 5 to hear and respond to a panel discussion sponsored by the on-line classical-music journal Boston Musical Intelligencer. Former Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer and talk-radio host (and former 'GBH newscaster) Christopher Lydon waxed particularly eloquent about the importance of high-quality classical music on the airwaves and the need for Boston public radio to live up to this city's unique cultural status. Station manager John Voci defended the decisions (there'd be no classical music on either station, he declared, if 'GBH hadn't bought 'CRB), but recently retired 'GBH classical-music producer Leslie Warshaw, speaking from the audience, lamented the disappearance of the word she used to hear when she first started: "mission." No public outcry seemed about to change anything. The following night, Dyer and Intelligencer executive editor Bettina Norton joined Voci on Emily Rooney's WGBH-TV show Greater Boston, with a similar result. Rooney, who didn't appear to know that the BSO does not charge Boston radio stations for its live performances, is one of the beneficiaries of 'GBH's all-talk radio programming: she's getting a new afternoon show of her own.

Sadder news: Seiji Ozawa, the BSO's music director laureate, has been diagnosed with an early stage of esophageal cancer and will be canceling all appearances for at least six months. We all wish the maestro the speediest and most thorough recovery.

David Hoose and the Cantata Singers seem bent on bringing back the heavy make-out music of the 1960s — what one heard from behind closed dormitory doors when students had intimate guests. But context is also revelation. Two years ago, the Cantata Singers gave us Orff's Carmina Burana as part of their Kurt Weill season, and they've just played the world's lushest, sexiest Requiem, the Duruflé (Gregorian chant by way of Hollywood), as part of a season devoted to a much more austere composer, 17th-century German master Heinrich Schütz. In the unfocused, reverberant acoustic of Cambridge's First Congregational Church (terrible for soloists), the chorus and orchestra — with star turns in the Duruflé by Peter Sykes in the extensive organ part and earthy cellist Beth Pearson — sounded uncannily otherworldly. Placing the Requiem after Schütz's brief æthereal motet So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ and the magical Psalm 116 (which ends in an irresistible repeated asymmetrical chord progression a great rock song would envy) and then the edgier syncopations of two John Harbison unaccompanied motets (We Do Not Live to Ourselves and My Little Children, Let Us Not Love in Word), Hoose nearly convinced me that Duruflé's swooning glamour was another aspect of spirituality.

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