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Readers! I went west last weekend to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen’s first concerts with the band he’ll soon take over, the San Francisco Symphony. It was an exciting evening, with the promise of a happy marriage: intense, committed yet self-effacing playing from a very good orchestra.
It’s a sly, darkly gorgeous piece, and a perfect complement to Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Sibelius’s “Four Legends from the Kalevala” (also known as the “Lemminkäinen Suite”) ended things with color: lithe brooding and taut energy.
Speaking of the New York Phil, this weekend is bringing the premiere performances of Julia Wolfe’s “Fire in my mouth,” about the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire. Michael Cooper did a lovely piece walking around with Ms. Wolfe and shopping for an unusual instrument: scissors.
And before I sign off, a treasure: The great baritone Ettore Bastianini was just 44 when he died of cancer, on Jan. 25, 1967. He deserves deep listening, and here’s a start:
Enjoy the weekend. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Hello from Paris, where so far this week I have been to a sleepy concert by Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris (missing its soloist Radu Lupu, who was replaced at the last minute by Nelson Goerner in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) and the premiere of a new production of Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” at the Paris Opera.
This Baroque oratorio, staged inside the Baroque-inspired Palais Garnier, was directed by Romeo Castellucci — more on that next week — and conducted by René Jacobs, who recorded the piece with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in the late 1990s. (On that album, he also sang the countertenor role of God.)
Here, he led the Belgian ensemble B’Rock, with a beefed-up orchestration to more easily fill the Garnier. Normally I would be skeptical of expanding an orchestra simply for volume; it risks sacrificing the score’s details and texture. But, under Mr. Jacobs’s baton, B’Rock still sounded like a small chamber orchestra: nimble, clear, precise. And restrained, reserving its most powerful sound for dramatic effect, which added a sense of theater to a piece whose plot often verges on inertia. JOSHUA BARONE
Thursday would have been the 100th birthday of the composer, pianist and conductor Leon Kirchner, who died at 90 in 2009. One of the most comprehensive musicians of his day, he was a valued teacher during a long career at Harvard. As a composer, Mr. Kirchner demonstrated that one could write works of rigorous complexity employing modernist techniques but in an instinctive, richly expressive, viscerally dramatic way.
Though steeped in the dodecaphonic music of his beloved teacher Schoenberg, Kirchner never used the 12-tone system strictly. Just hints of the aesthetic run through this mysterious slow movement from Kirchner’s Second String Quartet (1958), beautifully performed here by the Orion Quartet. Bartok and Stravinsky where also major influences, as the punchy opening movement of Kirchner’s First Piano Concerto (1953) make clear in this 1956 performance featuring the composer at the piano, with Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic.
Some musical highlights of my years living in Boston were the concerts Mr. Kirchner conducted with the Harvard Chamber Orchestra. He was not the tidiest technician. But he led scores by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and contemporary giants like a fellow composer who completely understood how the piece at hand worked. ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Any ensemble making its American debut is likely to feel some jitters, especially when the program includes a masterpiece as dense and thorny as Beethoven’s Op. 130. But on Sunday, members of the Maxwell String Quartet had an additional reason for feeling a little, well, vulnerable.
Addressing the audience at the New School, the group’s cellist, Duncan Strachan, explained why. “I must say,” he said, “this is a very high stage for kilts.”
Flashes of thigh, and wit, are not the only reason to take note of the Maxwell Quartet, which hails from Scotland and advertises that fact both in its dress and in its repertory, which includes striking arrangements of folk music. (As the sole Englishman in the lineup, the violist Elliott Perks wore tartan trousers.) As Sunday’s eloquent performance demonstrated, the players bring the same charisma and sense of adventure to their selections.
The slightly tart, resiny sound of traditional fiddle playing carried over beautifully into fresh readings of Haydn and into the Beethoven. But perhaps the most arresting moment was James MacMillan’s “Memento” from 1994, in which wisps of a melody floated on hazy harmonies and coalesced into heaving sighs before dissolving again into ghostly strains, rendered with a kind of fierce tenderness. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM