Saturday, February 9, 2019

Symphony Hall, Boston

Have been enjoying a Boston weekend, occasioned by attending a Cornell alumni meeting but enabling some old and new pleasures as well. The Hub was cool and windy at times, but for the second weekend in February, no complaints are lodged. Started out with a lunch at the nearest Legal Seafood, this one at Copley Place, where you can order fish chowder, unavailable at any of their outposts outside the Boston area. It's always worth it. And they now call "schrod" cod, because, as the waitress helpfully advised, that's what it is and when it used to say schrod on the menu, it could have been a lot of different fish.

One of the highlights was, surprisingly, to me at least, was my first time inside Symphony Hall, to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra play a modern piece by Olly Wilson, a violin concerto by Karol Szymanowski with soloist Lisa Batiashvili, and Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3. Ms. Batiashvili played beautifully and her part seemed to overwhelm the rest, both because of how it was written and her playing. She returned after the concert to sign CDs of which we had her autograph one for Vanessa. The Copland was pleasant and the fourth movement made it glorious, since he incorporated in it his famous Fanfare for the Common Man, which returns to end the symphony on a triumphant note, apppropriate for the first posrwar year when it premiered: 1946.

Symphony Hall itself, designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White fame for its 1900 opening, is a grand old place, with its perfect acoustics clearly in evidence for both piano and forte. The programs are the most comprehensive I've ever encountered, which is what one would expect from the Athens of America, the sobriquet it was still grasping when the hall was built. And the whole scene has a particular charm, emphasized by the musicians in tails and Ms. Batiashvili, a German violinist born in Georgia, even playing an encore before intermission.

Down the way from Symphony Hall is the Museum of Fine Arts, which featured an enthralling Ansel Adams show, including examples of his predecessors like Carleton Watkins and photographers who drew from Adams's legacy. The only missing part I noticed was the lack of any prints by Edward S. Curtis, who assembled a major first collection of Native American portraits. There's a book of them in the shop but none in the exhibit. The Adams prints are as amazing as ever, with some good commentary including how he jumped from his car to shoot Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, and gauged his light by knowing how bright the moon was and how quickly he needed to set up and shoot because the moon would soon disappear behind some clouds.

Then upstairs at MFA are the wonderful range of Monets and other Impressionists, which were delightful, and many other highlights we didn't get to savor. We also spent a great evening with my cousins Vikki and Gerry in Cambridge, and rode the T. Recently was sent a journal article dug up upon the death of the 92-year-old lyricist who wrote the MTA song, popularized by the Kingston Trio. It was fascinating to recall how the song had been written for the mayoral campaign (unsuccessful) in 1949 of Walter A. O'Brien, whom the Trio changed to George at the end of their version of the song. And seeing the lyrics reminded me that I was right in remembering that Charlie got on at the Kendall Square Station headed for Jamaica Plain but his wife slipped him the sandwich at what was the Scollay Square Station. Now the Man Who Never Returned is memorialized in the ticket and card you use to enter the system: the Charlie Ticket and Card.

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