Cortese Conducts The Orchestra Now with Fire and Finesse

The Millbrook Independent

“A platoon of winds and brass entered for Claude Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea, 1905), the first major Impressionist landscape opus for orchestra in three movements. This fantastic mood piece is always charming to hear, especially the third movement, Dialogue of the wind and sea. Trumpeter Christopher Moran, whose favorite symphony is Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, confessed in his introduction that there was enough of the trumpet in La Mer to make it one of his top favorites. The first movement dramatizes a Baudelaire-like vision of Romantic departure, while the second movement depicts the play of waves in a nearly fundamentalist Naturalism. The third movement is such inexpressible magic that garrulous commentators have little or nearly nothing to say, except that it remains exquisite and it was just that with Cortese coaxing students to play above their level, which is quite accomplished indeed.” —Kevin T. McEneaney

Photo by Matt Dine

The Visual Artists Who Inspired Brahms

The New Yorker

“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

Lost at Sea at Bard

The Millbrook Independent

“Leon Botstein opened The Orchestra Now with “Four Sea Interludes” from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. These evocative mood pieces produced radiant, seascape vistas. The audience rode the swells, being transported to another magical world that defied explanation. Music caressed and bewitched our ears. We were transported to the Land of Lotus Eaters and had no desire to return home.

. . . Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is a peculiar masterpiece. Listening to recordings remains interesting, but a live performance (as music goers know) is something entirely else. Here Leon Botstein delivered the shimmering intensity that the piece invites with its adroit orchestration. I particularly enjoyed the modest and melodic horns that Botstein tamed and molded into the texture of the whole cloth. There was a nice small clarinet moment. Elgar’s marvel invites repeated listening for its enigmatic portraits of people depicted in mischievous epyllion format. Here is rarefied insular genius evoking wit, character, and genial pleasure. What a pleasant way to conclude a concert!” – Kevin T. McEneaney

Photo by Matt Dine

Germany’s Neglected Mid-Century Masters

The New Yorker

“The composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) and the painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) had many things in common. Both were formidable, German, and bald. Both fled Nazi Germany in the nineteen-thirties, eventually reaching the United States. Each maintained a prolific output yet never compromised on craftsmanship—a zeal that made them natural (and distinguished) teachers. After the First World War, each moved from Expressionism to the New Objectivity, and then on to a more personal kind of mastery. Most important, each did so without abandoning what might be called the human figure: Hindemith, by subtly reinventing the traditional language of melody and tonal harmony; Beckmann, by remaining a representational artist at a time when abstraction was all the rage. The two will meet at the Metropolitan Museum on Oct. 16, where Leon Botstein will lead the Orchestra Now (TŌN), a symphonic ensemble based at Bard College, in “Hindemith & Beckmann: Expressionism and Exile,” a program that illuminates their mutual genius through discussion and performance.” – Russell Platt

Illustration by Andrea Ventura for The New Yorker

Cathedral of Sound

The Millbrook Independent

“The Orchestra Now concert at Sosnoff Theater was well-rehearsed in their opening concert for this season with Leon Botstein at the helm. They began with Aaron Copland’s witty and delightful Clarinet Concerto wonderfully performed by Viktor Toth on clarinet. Toth brought out a golden high tone with fast fingering.

Anton Bruckner’s long Fifth Symphony, an hour longer than the Copland, comprised the second half of the concert. Commentators have called this Bruckner’s great organ piece and the brass loves this piece as they have the opportunity of nearly drowning out the strings, reducing them at times to supporting background. And that horn section did let loose. In the last fugal movement Bruckner competes with the ghost of Bach and the orchestration is a vaulting pyramid of sound. Many have compared the work to an enormous cathedral. The last movement supplies a crowning spire that does something special to the neurons in the brain. This remains one of the great musical highs and I’m happy to report that the orchestra appeared to even excel Botstein’s highest hopes.” – Kevin T. McEneaney

Photo by Matt Dine

Leon Botstein Adds Grafenegg Festival

Musical America

“Known for his penchant for clever and unusual programs, both as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and as artistic director of the summer festivals of Bard College, of which he is president, Botstein recently launched a new training orchestra called The Orchestra Now (TŌN), which will undoubtedly play a part in his new job at Grafenegg.

In a brief phone interview, he described his primary function there as creating innovative, thematic programs and events for rising artists, including members of TŌN, as well as European Union Youth Orchestra members and graduates, and integrating those programs with the larger festival. He also plans to explore the intersection of music with other disciplines and with the culture at large. His first summer will focus on the immediate post-war years and the new nationalism, including the emergence of Russian as well as American composers during that time frame.” – Susan Elliot


Bard College’s orchestra to give free concert in Brooklyn


“TŌN is unique not only in its makeup of musicians, grad students from around the country and abroad, but in its approach to engage its audience and re-imagine the traditional ways in which classical music is performed and heard.

‘The best way to bring new listeners in is to show them that the orchestra is made of people just like them, who can communicate their own love and enthusiasm for music,’ Leon Botstein, famed conductor and president of Bard College, told amNewYork. “They are going out into the community and designing their own programs to introduce and involve people of their own generation and the next.”

Alongside its “Around Town” series — its final concert will take place in Queens next month — the orchestra has put on innovative performances around the city. At TŌN’s Carnegie Hall debut in January, Botstein gave spirited introductions to each part of the orchestra’s program; detailing its history with a levity that humanized big names like Beethoven and Cherubini and brought them into a 21st century context.” – Keira Alexander

Photo by Jito Lee

Exploring The Orchestra Now For Free

Cool Hunting

The Orchestra Now, an assembling of multi-national musicians, warrants attention for two reasons. It’s a graduate training orchestra of 37 young musicians—a part of Bard College’s master’s degree program, founded in the fall of 2015 by conductor and music historian Leon Botstein. Further, this orchestra brings resonance to classical pieces we’ve all heard in some way or another, infused in pop culture, to the stage and lets a new audience (and a new generation) experience it first-hand. They also frequently perform free of charge, providing an entry point for anyone interested, but uncertain or without the budget to splash around on tickets for a performance.

The Orchestra Now alleviates many barriers. Each concert pairs well-known works with music drawn from the vast underperformed repertoire of classical music. There’s an educational element to it, but excitement and experience stand at the forefront. This isn’t a preservation unit, it’s a blending of the past and the future—and many of the musicians will go on to play for some of the best orchestras around the globe.” – David Graver

Photo by David DeNee

Bard College launches training orchestra, TŌN

Musical America

“TŌN is a three-year, tuition-free, masters-degree program to be directed by Bard College President, Leon Botstein, also a conductor and music historian. According to Botstein, TŌN’s members are “forward-thinking artists who intend to redefine what it means to be an orchestra.” They will be learning how to “curate repertoire that engages concertgoers, sparks new ideas, and attracts new audiences,” he says.” – Susan Elliott

Orchestra and College Enter Each Other’s Turf

The New York Times

“Mr. Botstein of Bard, who is also the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, said that he hoped that the new training orchestra, which he said was inspired in part by Michael Tilson Thomas’s New World Symphony, would also perhaps give the musicians the tools to change the landscape with new community engagement projects and smart programs.

One idea he is considering: performing a complete cycle of Haydn symphonies over several years, with each concert including works from multiple periods. He said that he wants the orchestra to work with conductors such as James Conlon, JoAnn Falletta and Adam Fischer. The training orchestra, Mr. Botstein said, is “a completely, I think, fresh approach to equipping the musician of the future with a set of skills, and knowledge, and perspective of how to really generate a vital performing life.”” – Michael Cooper