“The Gift,” Handel’s “Messiah,” “A Baroque Holiday”
It’s a holiday themed show. A preview of the making of The Boston Ballet’s, “The Gift,” their streaming project, Handel + Haydn Society’s free performance and a preview of Handel’s “Messiah” in collaboration with GBH, which airs on Sunday, entitled, “Messiah for Our Time.” Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky discusses the historic and uplifting piece, plus Boston Baroque presents, “A Baroque Holiday”
>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,
WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture
from around the region and the nation.
I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,
Boston Ballet is back.
>> My energy just went through the roof.
I saw a video of myself dancing
and my energy was through the roof.
>> BOWEN: Then Handel'sMessiah for our time.
>> I think Handel
knew how to tell a story through music with such drama
that it just grips people from beginning to end.
>> BOWEN: Plus, Boston Baroque plays its season's greetings.
>> We have to get used to playing
in a different configuration, and, and socially distanced
and wearing masks.
But it, it feels great to be actually making music.
>> BOWEN: It's all now on this special holiday edition
Welcome to our annual celebration of the holidays
as we spend time with the artists
who have practically moved Heaven and Earth
to bring us tidings of comfort and joy this season,
starting with Boston Ballet.
(gentle music playing)
What was once the unthinkable has now been thought out.
Ballet, which so often simmers
with the sensuality of bodies coming together,
is happening again.
(Duke Ellington'sNutcracker Suite playing)
It's different; the audiences are gone,
masks are not, and the passion?
It never left.
>> The moment we were not able to do it
is the moment we realized how we love doing what we do
and how we need it in our life.
>> BOWEN: Tigran Mkrtchyan is a principal dancer
with Boston Ballet.
We met him in the company's studios last month
rehearsing forThe Gift, a jazzy holiday program
that, in the absence of live performance, is streaming now.
What shape were you in when you came back into the studio?
>> I was running daily, so didn't feel too bad.
But it's a process to come back.
(fast-tempo music playing)
>> BOWEN: It has been a process all around.
Last March, the company was just hours away
from opening its production ofCarmen,
seen here in this dress rehearsal,
when artistic director
Mikko Nissinen shut it all down and sent his dancers home.
>> We were very lucky,
because I think we were the first organization to do that.
I saw this freight train coming,
and I just, I was really concerned.
(gentle music playing)
>> BOWEN: Eight months and many canceled programs later,
the Ballet has lost approximately $10 million,
laid off staff, and reduced both work and pay.
>> Everything cost-- we are closed for business
Dancers have a reduced number of weeks guaranteed.
But we kept the company together.
(classical piece playing)
>> BOWEN: Nowhere near ready for a final bow,
and with some philanthropic help,
Nissinen has turned his attention to video.
>> Hello, public!
Here we are at Boston Ballet-- really at home.
>> BOWEN: This fall, Boston Ballet rolled out BB@yourhome,
a virtual season that premiered with an hourlong look
at the work of William Forsythe,
including conversations with the choreographer
and freshly danced pieces.
("Impossible (Jax Jones Remix)" by Lion Babe playing)
>> My trick to that is I don't try to entertain.
I try to connect with human beings.
I want to stimulate thinking, massage the heart,
and create lots of room around the soul to exist.
Everybody's cooped up, everybody is more edgy.
Everybody is more sensitive.
So we focus in on little smaller things and try to touch people.
>> BOWEN: Which brings us back
to Boston Ballet's cavernous studios,
where dancers are working once again.
>> And, six, seven, eight...
Go, one, two, three, four, five...
>> BOWEN: Soloist Chyrstyn Fentroy
has choreographedThe Gift's opening,
set to the overture of Duke Ellington'sNutcracker Suite.
>> There's so much texture in this one piece of music.
It feels a little bit like you're at a jazz club.
But then it also feels, like, romantic in one point,
and then it feels almost dark in another point.
(Ellington'sNutcracker Suite playing)
>> BOWEN: We're not used to seeing people, bodies together.
Did you have to be mindful of that
as you were choreographing it?
>> Yeah, at first it was,
it was a little tricky to, to think about
how people might feel uneasy partnering each other,
being too close to each other,
trying not to group people together, but we work in pods.
>> BOWEN: Just as professional sports leagues
have quarantined teams,
Boston Ballet has divided the entire company
into five pods of about ten dancers each.
Week in and week out,
dancers rehearse and perform only
with members of their own pod.
The Ballet is bearish
in reminding about social distancing,
and sanitizer comes by the drumful.
>> We have self-medical test every morning,
weekly testing, and social distancing, you know,
teaching from one studio into six other studios.
>> BOWEN: Yes, even dancers are on Zoom.
>> It totally works.
There are some times that, you know,
internet can be glitchy, or things can be slow.
I think one of the hardest things about working virtually
from studio to studio is, like,
the slight delay in music.
>> BOWEN: But that's nothing
compared to what it took the company
to get back in shape, after the spring lockdown
brought an abrupt end to their six-day-a-week schedule
of eight-hour-a-day workouts.
>> When we're at home, a lot of us are in apartments,
so we can't jump or anything like that.
>> I told them to approach coming back,
come back like you came back from major injury.
You have to build yourself back in that manner, otherwise,
your body will break.
>> BOWEN: But Boston Ballet has proven to be unbroken--
as we saw whenThe Gift wrapped.
(Ellington'sNutcracker Suite playing)
As part of the program,
the full company also gathered for the first time
since the pandemic started, taking to the streets
for a socially distanced showstopper
in front of the Opera House, their non-pandemic home.
>> My energy just went through the roof.
I saw a video of myself dancing, and my energy was
through the roof, but I think that's okay.
>> ♪ The mighty God, the Everlasting Father ♪
♪ The Prince of Peace
♪ Unto us a Child is born
♪ For unto us a Child is born
♪ For unto us a Child is born ♪
♪ For unto us a Child is born
♪ Unto us a Son is given
♪ Unto us a Son is given ♪
>> BOWEN: That was from Handel and Haydn Society's
Messiahfor Our Time,
recorded here at GBH in our Fraser Studio.
It'll be streaming throughout the holidays.
And it also ensures the group's 167-year streak ofMessiah
performances remains unbroken-- even in a pandemic.
We'll see more of the performance in a moment,
but first, H+H concertmaster and violinist Aisslinn Nosky
gives us the background.
Aisslinn Nosky, first of all,
you're the first person I've spoken to in studio
in seven or eight months, it's so delighted--
I'm so delighted to be with you.
>> Oh, it's an honor to be here and chat with you.
>> BOWEN: So let me just start with,
I have been watching, from a distance, you all performing.
What's that like to be back together?
This is one of the first times, correct?
>> This is one of the first times
we've gathered together since last March.
And the feeling is almost indescribable.
The levels of joy and comfort are off the charts.
I mean, it's, it's, I, I knew I missed it,
but I think only through coming back to it
have I realized how much I missed it.
It's been fabulous to be back.
>> BOWEN: Is it the same?
>> It feels the same to me.
Yeah, it feels the same to me
in terms of my connection to the music
and my connection to my colleagues.
But that's a great question, because at the same time,
it's, it's of course not the same,
because we're doing a very scaled-down version ofMessiah,
with many, many safety protocols.
I thought, I thought those protocols would, would somehow
get in the way of the music and the connections we feel.
But really, they haven't.
They're there, but they're not in the way.
>> BOWEN: This has been performed by H+H
every single year since 1854. >> (chuckles)
>> BOWEN: How significant it's-- this isn't Symphony Hall.
It's not a big hall, but how significant is it
to be able to perform this year and keep that tradition going,
since you have gone through wars, another pandemic?
>> Yeah, 166 years in a row, and this will be our 167th.
It's significant to me and to everybody at H+H
that we're able to do something this year, even though
it's on a smaller scale.
This piece, Handel'sMessiah, is
inextricably linked with our history
as an organization, and I think even
the history of Western classical music, actually.
It's been such a greatest hit
since it was first performed.
It's one of the only things we can point to,
the only pieces of music, that never left the performing canon
from the moment it was written.
It was just wildly popular
and became more and more popular after that.
And we have a connection with it,
having been the first organization to perform
all of it in North America.
It feels like coming home, to be able to perform it right now.
>> BOWEN: Well, you and I have spoken in the the past about
what makes certain pieces of music resonate with people,
as this one has, but it's interesting,
I'm curious to know why you think
it is so popular,
especially during the holidays, and knowing that
it was conceived for and premiered at Easter.
>> True, yes.
It was actually meant for Easter originally.
And we are performing the part of the work
that's meant for the Nativity,
the first part ofMessiah, this season.
I think that there's a few reasons that it's wildly popular
and always has been.
I think Handel
knew how to tell a story through music
with such drama that it just grips people
from beginning to end.
And I think that that's not always the case
with long-form works.
Sometimes, you'll have a great hit, showstopper,
really popular tune here or there,
and then you'll have a few maybe not as popular tunes,
then another one will come along.
But with Handel'sMessiah,
almost every single one of these arias and choruses is,
is hummable, and you can sing along to it in your head.
They're just very memorable, and I also think that,
on top of that, the fact that he's telling a story
that is familiar in some way to most people, to many people,
Aspects of the story are already known
to almost everybody in the audience.
And I think that that gives a sense of familiarity
with the material that's in it.
>> BOWEN: It's believed that he wrote it in about three weeks.
I think they've done the math, about 250,000,
a quarter of a million notes. >> (chuckles)
>> BOWEN: If you do the math, ten-hour days,
that's 15 notes per minute-- how extraordinary is that?
>> That's extraordinary, even for Handel,
who I think did tend to write things quickly.
It, it makes me think that it just poured out of him
in a fit of inspiration, that he, he had these ideas,
these musical ideas and this musical story,
an emotional story that he wanted to share with people.
And it just, it just poured out of him
and he almost couldn't stop it.
That is, that is a very
speedy, speedy accomplishment for him.
And, you know, at first the, as you know, probably,
the piece was a little bit
considered scandalous, because it uses
text from the Bible, and that was considered a little bit
improper at the time.
But after people stopped thinking that
that was sort of out of the ordinary,
it just became one of the most performed pieces
in the entire literature.
>> BOWEN: With some tweaks by Mozart,
none other than Mozart, at one point.
>> That's right, Mozart rescored it
and added more wind instruments to it.
I think other composers have done so, too.
the Mozart version is still performed to this day.
>> BOWEN: I think I may have asked you this question before,
but I think it's very salient now,
especially this year, but where do you go?
You've performed this piece so many times,
but where do you go in your head now when you're performing it?
>> Well, for me, I go into the sound of my instrument
and the orchestra and the chorus.
And it's not really a place that's physical.
It's-- there must be some area in my brain
that's lit up while I'm doing it.
I wouldn't know where that is,
but it definitely feels like I have,
I'm having an internal experience
in my emotional world.
And so I'm present in my physical body
on my seat with my violin.
But I'm actually more,
somehow my consciousness is more inside myself
and, and trying to connect with my colleagues,
if that makes any sense.
>> BOWEN: Any words you'd like to leave us with
as we look and hear the piece for ourselves?
>> Well, to say something that hasn't been said
about Handel'sMessiah is, I think, almost impossible,
but I guess I would like to express gratitude for the fact
that it exists and that a musical piece of such magnitude
and power can draw us together
even in such difficult times as this year.
>> BOWEN: Well, Aisslinn Nosky, always great to see you.
Thank you so much.
>> Thank you so much.
>> ♪ There were shepherds
♪ Abiding in the field
♪ Keeping watch over their flock ♪
♪ By night
(orchestra playing lightly and rhythmically)
♪ And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them ♪
♪ And the glory of the Lord shone round about them ♪
♪ And they were sore afraid
(orchestra resumes slowly)
♪ And the angel said unto them
♪ Fear not, for behold
♪ I bring you good tidings of great joy ♪
♪ Which shall be to all people ♪
♪ For unto you is born this day ♪
♪ In the city of David
♪ A Savior
♪ Which is Christ the Lord
(orchestra playing quickly and softly)
♪ And suddenly there was with the angel ♪
♪ A multitude of the heav'nly host ♪
♪ Praising God and saying
CHORUS: ♪ Glory to God
♪ Glory to God
♪ In the highest
(slowly and softly): ♪ And peace on earth
(orchestra playing softly)
(loudly): ♪ Glory to God, glory to God
♪ Glory to God in the highest
(slowly and softly): ♪ And peace
♪ On earth
>> BOWEN: Our musical meanderings continue now
with Boston Baroque.
(orchestra playing "Noel")
That was "Noel,"
from Boston Baroque's recent pop-up holiday concert,
also filmed in our Fraser Studio.
The period instrument orchestra carefully charted a way
to bring musicians back together for some holiday favorites,
but it was not without its challenges,
as Boston Baroque founder and music director
Martin Pearlman told me.
Marty Pearlman, thank you so much for being with us.
>> It's good to be here.
>> BOWEN: Well, tell me what,
what constitutes a Baroque holiday?
>> A Baroque holiday.
Well, some holiday music, but in general,
music that's just upbeat and fun to hear.
We do, we do begin with some holiday music in our,
in our live stream.
And of course, this month, we're doingMessiah, as well.
>> BOWEN: Well, and I understand,
obviously, these are very different times
in who you can bring together
and how you bring musicians together.
What can we expect to hear for the instruments?
You think of holidays, you think a lot of trumpet and brass.
>> Yeah, well, these days, of course, with the pandemic,
you don't-- you have to be very careful about using winds.
And we're not using winds, except in one case,
we have one recorder at a distance and no singers.
I hope that changes very soon,
because we normally do have, have those instruments,
but most of it is strings.
>> BOWEN: And how does this work for you?
Obviously, the configuration has changed.
You're also conducting from where you are.
How does, how does that work? >> Yeah.
Well, I, I...
For a certain number of years, when I started, many years ago,
I did lead from the harpsichord,
and I'll occasionally do that for certain pieces.
So, you know, I do that.
But it's-- we're restricted
in the number of people we can have at one time.
And so you have to choose your repertoire carefully,
and you have to figure out
exactly how you're going to do it.
>> BOWEN: And do you have the sight lines for everyone,
or is this going to be a bit of a rigorous performance?
>> Well, it's always, it's always a bit of an experiment
and a bit of a challenge.
We have, in here,
we have a kind of a circle of people
for, for our largest piece,
which is the Third Brandenburg Concerto.
But you have to make sure people can see each other,
that they can hear each other, and you have to rehearse.
>> BOWEN: Well, this must be fun, too,
because there is something so inherently spiritual
and something about the holidays with period instruments.
It takes us all back.
Of course, this is a time
in which we've become very reflective.
>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: How is it for you
in that regard?
>> Well, it's, for musicians in general,
I think it's a very busy time.
And so perhaps less reflection
than there is for some people. (laughs)
But, but typically, we do Messiah in December,
and this year, we're doing it virtually.
We have, we're doing a video of our previousMessiah recordings
that, that people can access online.
>> ♪ Unto us a Son is given
♪ For unto us
>> And then we do these what we call pop-up concerts,
which, which we do when, when circumstances allow it.
And we put, as I said, we start with a few holiday pieces,
and then we just do these very bright concertos
that are fun to listen to.
>> BOWEN: How is it to be back together again?
>> It's great, people...
People love it, I mean, we have to get used to playing
in a different configuration, and socially distanced,
and wearing masks, except, of course,
for the recorder player,
who is more socially distanced because of that.
But it feels great to be
actually making music.
That's, that's what we're here for.
>> BOWEN: How is it to do it
without a lot of wind instruments?
>> Well, it depends on the repertoire we choose.
And there's a lot of great, great music with just strings.
We, we do some violin concertos.
The last streaming concert we did wasTheFour Seasons,
that's only strings, and harpsichord.
And, and this one has Concerto Grosso.
It has a violin concerto.
It does have the recorder concerto,
and the Third Brandenburg is only strings.
>> BOWEN: What has it been like
to have music in this time?
Does it feel necessary to have music in this time?
>> It certainly does to me,
and I think it is for most people.
I, of course, am fortunate to be able to spend most of my day
with music in one form or another,
either writing it or playing it or studying it or whatever,
and then, and listening to it.
I... you know, I listen to the station here,
you know, CRB, and, and...
But it's, no, it's essential.
I think you can't just survive only on news.
>> BOWEN (chuckles): As someone who sometimes delivers the news,
I understand that. >> (laughs): Yes.
>> BOWEN: No challenge there. >> Especially these days.
>> BOWEN: And finally, we're going to hear a bit more
of, as you just mentioned, Brandenburg.
Tell us about that piece.
>> The Third Brandenburg is, is unusual
among string pieces.
It has, it has three trios.
It has three violins, three violas, three cellos.
And then the harpsichord and bass
are almost like the accompanists.
And you can, you can almost visually see,
as well as hear, the-- if you have stereo--
the music go around the semicircle of these players
as it gets passed from the highest notes
to the bottom, to the lowest.
So it's a really wonderfully dynamic piece,
both musically, of course, and just visually and dramatically.
>> BOWEN: Well, thank you for the introduction to that,
we can't wait to watch and listen.
Marty Pearlman, great to be with you.
>> Good to be here, thank you.
>> (playing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3)
(playing variation of previous section)
(playing new variation of first section)
>> BOWEN: There's lots of opportunity
forA Christmas Caroling as we look at Arts This Week.
Since we can't visit Ireland or even a theater,
let Brian O'Donovan take us there.
Christmas Celtic Sojourn is a virtual voyage
as the New England holiday tradition streams via GBH.
(fiddle music playing)
This year marksTheChristmas Revels' 50thanniversary,
and for the first time, the show goes virtual.
Joining this year is special guest renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
(Ellington's Nutcracker Suite playing)
Tchaikovsky'sNutcracker receives a jazzy spin,
and it's a big 20th annniversary forUrban Nutcracker,
offering a Duke Ellington- inspired performance
The Huntington Theatre Company is streaming a newly filmed take
on the classic A Christmas Carol.
See Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays grace the stage
as Scrooge, Marley, and all the ghosts.
Trinity Rep in Providence isCaroling, too.
Tune in to see the company's annual dive into Dickens,
and for the first time featuring film, animation,
and remote audience participation.
And celebrate the holiday season with mariachi singer
Tune in toA Mexican Christmas for a joyousNavidad.
Before we leave you,
the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum recently transformed
its iconic courtyard with a host of lush, holiday plantings.
Here's a look,
shot by my longtime videographer Howard Powell,
as we hear some of Vivaldi's "Concerto in C"
fromA Baroque Holiday.
>> (playing Vivaldi's "Concerto in C")
That is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
I'm Jared Bowen, and on behalf of all of us at the show,
I wish you the happiest of holidays
and best wishes for a healthy new year.
As always, you can visit us online
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
More Episodes (334)
New Public Art, Author Debra Balken, and moreFebruary 26, 2021
South Asian Art Galleries at PEM, Photographer Amani WillettFebruary 19, 2021
The Memorial of the 54th Regiment and Director James DarrahFebruary 12, 2021
David Allen Sibley, Playwright Michael Lew, and moreFebruary 05, 2021
"Hatched," ArtsEmerson's David Howse, and moreJanuary 29, 2021
"Made It," Actor Denis O'Hare, and moreJanuary 22, 2021