The New York Times: An Orchestra Offers a Novel View of Music History

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“Leon Botstein, an indispensable advocate of the unfairly ignored, brought his ensemble The Orchestra Now to Carnegie Hall on Thursday for an evening of works that, despite covering a range of nearly 150 years, felt as fresh as a batch of premieres.

Botstein belongs to a class of conductors and artistic directors — including historian Joseph Horowitz, as well as Gil Rose of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Ashleigh Gordon and Anthony R. Green of Castle of Our Skins, and more — who bring an endlessly curious and almost archaeological mind to their programming. They operate on such a small scale, they can hardly reverse the course of American classical music history; but each concert, each recording, is an essential step in a better direction.

On Thursday, Botstein and The Orchestra Now, a capable and game group of young musicians, took the latest of those steps with Julia Perry’s Stabat Mater, written in 1951, early in that composer’s short life; Scott Wheeler’s new violin concerto, Birds of America, featuring Gil Shaham; and George Frederick Bristow’s Fourth Symphony, Arcadian, from 1872.

The mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter navigated her part’s surprising turns and plunges in Perry’s Stabat Mater with smooth and characterful ease. . . . Shaham, one of our sunniest violinists, entered Wheeler’s concerto with a singing melody on his highest string, and brought abundant warmth throughout. But he was also grippingly virtuosic in tricky, Sarasate-like passages of lyrical double-stops and left-hand pizzicato. ” – Joshua Barone

Photo by David DeNee

The Millbrook Independent: Mind & Heart—The Orchestra Now at Bard

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“On Sunday afternoon at Bard College The Orchestra Now under the baton of Leon Botstein played an interesting live-stream program of music mostly not often played. They opened with a sure favorite, George Frederick Handel’s Water Music. While there were merely twenty-three performers (Handel had fifty), TŌN sounded like fifty players with resonant unity and the exuberant joy which the work demands, echoing long after in one’s ear.

After that delight they played the Chamber Symphony No.1 by Arnold Schoenberg. Not often played, the work offers an introspective plunge. Victor Tόth from Hungary (who introduced the work with pyrotechnic density) excelled with the large bass clarinet. This intensely intricate intellectual journey inward offered vibrant contrast to the sunny extroversion of Handel.

In Silvestre Revueltas’ Cuauhnáhuac, percussive polyrhythms dance to dissonant, chromatic idioms and irregular progressions to achieve a neo-Romantic evocation of a landscape before European Colonialization. The strings in their unity delivered a unified mystery amplified by the flute of Leanna Ginsberg.

Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, composed in Switzerland as U.S. troops overran Germany, is perhaps the most overtly emotional work that Strauss ever composed. An elegiac lament on the death of German culture, it offers a broad accessibility in its sentiment (much like his famous Alpine Symphony). This all-string transcendent performance certainly went under my skin. Amid the searching pathos, the cellos of Cameron Collins and Lucas Button stood out.” —Kevin T. McEneaney

BroadwayWorld: TŌN with Tan Dun at Jazz At Lincoln Center

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“A student gave an introduction to each of the works on the program. All four were personable and well-spoken, particularly Weiqiao Wu. Mr. Wu introduced the highlight of the concert, world-renowned composer and conductor  Tan Dun’s Violin Concerto: Rhapsody and Fantasia 2009What might have been a somewhat knotty, impenetrable contemporary piece was made more accessible through Mr.Wu’s explanation.

The brilliant soloist Ms. Eldbjørg Hemsing brought the music to life, articulating each note with precision and richly dynamic expression. No mere walk in the park for the violinist, this highly rhythmic, complex work allowed each section of the orchestra to shine. The lovely, warm string sound was especially appealing. There was a large percussion battery that included Chinese gongs which bent the music into inimitable Eastern sounds. Mr. Dun’s direction of the orchestra was clearly defined and dynamic. The orchestral response was instantaneous, which meant that all eyes were not only on the music, but on Mr. Dun as well. For the listener, this piece was imaginative, engaging, and downright fun to experience.

The Rhapsody for Clarinet by Claude Debussy featured TŌN clarinet soloist Viktor Tóth. Mr. Tóth’s sensitive playing was at times somewhat melancholy and nostalgic. His ability to sustain long phrases on seemingly one breath without a lapse of pitch or support was astonishingly beautiful. At all times the orchestra provided a shimmering yet delicate background for the soloist.

The Miraculous Mandarin Suite by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was the final work of the day. This ballet begins with an authoritative trombone solo and goes on to showcase all sections of the orchestra. There were several standout section soloists, which included the aforementioned trombone and some lovely oboe playing.” – Joanna Barouch

Photo by Patrick Arias

Cadenza: The Sight and Sound of Vallotton and Honegger

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“Botstein has become the city’s preeminent music educator, a music historian to the people; each concert is a veritable course in music appreciation. TŌN’s valuable Sight & Sound series at The Metropolitan Museum of Art enhances the audience’s cultural cachet, providing context for both music and visual art.

The first movement of [Honegger’s Symphony No. 1] grabs the listener by the ear and doesn’t let go. Its rhythmically charged, angular lines recall Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. TŌN’s virtuosic string section played with vibrant electricity, clarity, and definition. The brass section is world class. As the fast-paced music builds in emphasis, the horns contribute stunning section playing. Muted trumpet solos soar, or comment wryly. The celli, basses, and percussion maintain the integrity of the motoric pulse, grooving along with daring march. TŌN excels at crystalline intonation in complex, kaleidoscopic harmonies.

The middle movement, Adagio, is the heart of the piece. TŌN’s woodwinds make cohesive drama in slithery, sinuous dialogue. Again, the horns, with their powerful, round tone and unfailing stamina, play with maturity beyond their years. Botstein, subtly balancing dynamics, draws focused imagery from many planes of texture.

The finale, Presto-Andante tranquillo, begins adventurously, the trumpets achieving athletic feats, the trombones interjecting ironically with admirable taste. Each section of the orchestra gets put through its paces, and TŌN’s musicians collaborate skillfully, acing tight harmonies and textures.” – Brian Taylor

Photo by David DeNee

The New York Times: Abstraction in Music and Art

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“On Sunday, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Leon Botstein led The Orchestra Now in a program called “Abstraction in Music and Art,” tied to one of the Met’s current exhibitions. With just about 45 minutes of playing, this was more of a lecture than it was a traditional orchestral concert. But the stretches of commentary and the performances both had their moments.

Mr. Botstein delivered some learned, witty remarks (complete with slide show) on the aesthetic ties between Anton Webern, Morton Feldman and the visual art scenes of their respective eras. Webern’s “Six Pieces for Orchestra” was played sensitively, twice, both before and after the intermission.

Yet the real star of the show was the belated New York premiere of Feldman’s “Orchestra”: a nearly 20-minute work of drifting sublimity that predates the composer’s “Neither,” a one-act opera with a text by Samuel Beckett.

Mr. Botstein and the players did justice to the strangeness of “Orchestra.” A meditative mood prevailed through whisper-quiet passages and more formidable, massed ones. And the strings brought a sneaky sense of unease to the haunting melodic line that reappears throughout the work’s final minutes.” – Seth Colter Walls

Photo by David DeNee

Vulture: It’s Time We All Heard the Music of Lili Boulanger

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“Boulanger matured early and worked feverishly, and in the time allotted her, produced a handful of masterworks that require no special pleading. They weren’t lost, hidden, or unplayable; they were just treated with a neglect that would be shocking if it weren’t so predictable. The New York Philharmonic hasn’t performed a note of hers in more than 40 years. The last concert of her works on Carnegie Hall’s main stage took place in 1962. Fortunately, this is just the sort of historical injustice that the conductor Leon Botstein loves to rectify, and on May 2, he leads The Orchestra Now in “De Profundis,” a Carnegie Hall concert of works based on Psalm 130. The program concludes with Boulanger’s massive, thrillingly dark setting of the text, which moves from despair (“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord . . .”) to tremulous hope. Those were the two emotional poles of her life.” —Justin Davidson

OperaWire: An Immaculate Presentation of Verdi’s Requiem

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“Having heard the work a number of times (as well as having so many recordings in my head), this clearly was one of  the most memorable and moving Verdi Requiems I have heard.

Conductor Botstein consistently demonstrated an ability to bring the massive forces together, with a precision that had the array of forces cohere with great, controlled power. And, as usual for Botstein, he brought out details and shadings in the work that, well, seemed entirely new.

And with a graduate student orchestra, that youth and exuberance meant that – with all that detail and attention in place – the performance was, at many times, earthshakingly exciting. The “Tuba Mirum,” with trumpets placed in the upper balcony, produced a tidal wave of sound, and yet always remained musical, always controlled, as if that hurricane rattling outside your front door could be controlled.

As to “Requiem’s” quieter moments, the shading that Botstein elicited from the orchestra, the chorus and the soloists — in sections like the “Liber scriptus” or the “Ingemisco” — brought both a clear beauty of sound and a solemn peace amidst the Requiem’s stormy moments, always with fierce “judgement,” of course pending.

And when the audience – and I do not exaggerate here — shot to their feet as one, we perhaps all well knew there might not have been a better place to hear this great music, performed at this level of excellence, on this day just about anywhere.” —Matt Costello

Photo by Matt Dine

The New York Times: Exhausted by Harmony, Schoenberg Found Atonality

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“At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the conductor Leon Botstein discussed Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), a one-act monodrama for soprano and orchestra, written in 1909, and led The Orchestra Now, an ensemble from Bard College (where Mr. Botstein is the president), and the soprano Kirsten Chambers in excerpts from the piece to illustrate his points.

Mr. Botstein began by describing both “Erwartung” and the paintings of Munch (the subject of a major exhibition at the museum’s Met Breuer space) as works of Expressionism. The Expressionists rejected conventional reality, he said, believing that individuals, including artists, create their own.

Calling “Erwartung” the “first Freudian opera,” Mr. Botstein played excerpts to illustrate the work’s restless, sometimes rootless harmonic language, the skittish interplay of contrapuntal lines, the composer’s use of recurring motifs and the tormented emotional cast of the music. He drew rich, expressive playing from the orchestra, and Ms. Chambers’s bright lyric soprano lent fragile innocence to her portrayal of the desperate Woman.” – Anthony Tommasini

Photo by David DeNee

HuffPost: Don’t Miss The Orchestra Now

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“On the musical engagement front, don’t miss The Orchestra Now (TŌN). Its noble aim is to make orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences, led by renowned conductor Leon Botstein.

The musicians are handpicked from the world’s leading conservatories and their performances, as evidenced by their recent Carnegie Hall rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho Suite,” “Symphony No. 1” and Erich Korngold’s “Symphony in F. Sharp,” was dramatic and intense. TŌN is an opportunity to see talented musicians early in their careers.

What’s so impressive about the accomplished TŌN is its variety — upcoming concerts include Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and Shostakovich’s “Michelangelo” — and occasional free concerts at Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.” – Fern Siegel

Photo by David DeNee

The New Yorker: The Visual Artists Who Inspired Brahms

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“Amid the cultural turmoil of late-nineteenth-century Europe—driven, most powerfully, by the revolutionary operas of Richard Wagner—Johannes Brahms continued to explore the early-nineteenth-century musical genres perfected by Beethoven: the symphony, the sonata, and the concerto, forms in which the composer used craftsmanship to transform pure emotion into musical structure. Brahms did keep up with the trends of his time, of course, if only to be familiar with the kinds of music he positioned his own works against. But his keen interest in the visual art of his day is less well known—an aspect of his creativity that Leon Botstein will explore with The Orchestra Now (TŌN) in their latest concert at the Metropolitan Museum, “Sight and Sound: Brahms, Menzel, and Klinger” (Jan. 29).” – Russell Platt