Letter from Maestro

Dear Friends,

In this, my yearly letter to you, I want to speak to you first about the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. You may have noticed that on the cover of this brochure the names of the youth orchestra and of the BPO itself are presented with equal prominence. This is not an accident. It is our way of announcing that the BPYO can stand on a par with any professional orchestra.

What an astounding idea! An orchestra of “kids” aged 12 to 21 having something to offer that is in any way equivalent to an orchestra of top professionals, but it really is so!   Last April the BPYO performed the entire third act of Wagner’s tremendous opera Siegfried. No other youth orchestra in the world, ever, has undertaken this formidable musical challenge, famously daunting to even the orchestras of the greatest opera houses.

Stefan Vinke, the world-famous Siegfried who sang with us and who has performed the role all over the world, wrote to me afterwards: “I'm overwhelmed by the quality of this young orchestra! I have never heard the long solo for the first violin section so beautifully played in any of the great opera houses of Europe.” And here is pianist, MIT professor and longtime Wagnerian David Deveau: “The sound and style the BPYO produced would be the envy of most provincial European opera houses—and even some major ones. This is extraordinary Wagner playing, and music making of a very high order.”

So I am writing to you to urge you to place the dates of the concerts of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra on your calendar, along with the other BPO dates. There is no greater gift I can give you, except perhaps making the first concert of the BPYO a FREE concert, enabled by a generous grant from the Free-for-All Foundation.

This free concert is on a Monday night, so that there will be no competition from any other musical or theatrical event.  It will start at 7.30 p.m. to ensure that parents will feel OK about bringing their youngsters, even though it is a school night.  The music is both great and extremely popular – Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Debussy’s La mer. The soloist is spectacular – the breathtakingly virtuosic Ayano Ninomiya, playing the Stravinsky Violin Concerto, one of the most appealing violin concertos ever written.  And to start, the Overture to Ruslan & Ludmila to show off our amazing violins! Take out your diaries right now and put down November 2nd as a not-to-be-missed event.

The remaining two BPYO concerts will challenge even this extraordinary “youth” orchestra to its limits. Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony , and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on one program, shaking their fists at each other over the chasm of the intermission, and Mahler’s First, Brahms Double Concerto and a new work specially written for the orchestra by one of America’s leading composers. What a feast! 

And now we come to the magnificent grown-up orchestra. The first concert of the Boston Philharmonic this year will also be in Symphony Hall enabling us to use the majestic organ for both pieces on the program, so grand in scope: Holst’s The Planets and Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra – a sonic spectacular if ever there was one!  People nowadays tend to hear music like this on recordings, or on (shudder) mp3s, with their reduced audio fidelity.  Symphony Hall is exactly the place where music like this ought to be heard, with its perfect acoustics. The organ at the beginning of Also sprach Zarathustra is merely loud on recordings. In Symphony Hall it rattles your bones!  

For the Boston Philharmonic’s second concert we are bringing back to Boston the amazing soprano Alwyn Mellor, who stunned everyone in Siegfried Act 3.  After that performance Pulitzer Prize winning critic Lloyd Schwartz wrote “Alwyn Mellor must have one of the most sumptuous voices of anyone singing Wagner today, combined with the profoundest sensitivity to Wagner’s poetry.” What a thrill it will be to hear her singing the Liebestod and the Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung in an all-Wagner concert.

As for the Boston Philharmonic’s two final concerts: the deeply moving First Symphony of Elgar, coupled with Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto with Jennifer Frautschi, one of America’s finest violinists and Verdi’s shattering Requiem, again in Symphony Hall, with four of the finest Verdi singers in the world today.

For me it feels like the ultimate privilege – to conduct some of my favorite pieces of music, all packed into one season. I want you there and I want to share this incredible music with as many new listeners as possible.  Now is the time to build a new audience, so that classical music can regain its place at the center of our culture and of our lives. I promise that the all-out, passionate, committed playing of these two great orchestras, supported by the pre concert explanations, will take us far in that direction.

Benjamin Zander