While technically still in 2015, New Year’s Eve last year was a warm First Night in St. Petersburg Florida, where I saw a few vocal concerts by local singers and a chorus in some old churches. Then I got stuck in traffic going back to Clearwater and watched the midnight beach fireworks from the rental car as I made my way back to the motel, so since the evening ended in 2016 it counts for this year.

All told I heard the BSO 26 times in the 2016 calendar year at Symphony Hall, all but 4 of them in conjunction with the café, that’s a record that may never be broken. The highlight of the BSO repertoire in Spring 2016 was probably Barbara Hannigan singing Hans Abrahamsen’s “Let me tell you”, which I still need to get on CD, although it’s not with the BSO.  Heard Nelsons conduct Shosty 8 twice, I did get that CD, which is now a Grammy nominee.  Also heard Perahia for the first time in a while, doing Beethoven 4.

There were 3 visits to Tanglewood this summer, the first was on the way back from a July weekend in Saratoga, where Chloe and Beth made their first ever visit. We camped out on the lawn and I went inside at show time to hear Yuja Wang play Ravel and Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.  I was back the following weekend for the day to hear Ohlsson do Tchaikovsky, and then in August for a three day stretch, to witness my first solo recital of Nelson Freire at Ozawa Hall, followed the next night by solo Marc Andre Hamelin, who was filling in at the last minute for Daniil Trifonov.  Stuck around Friday night to hear Bronfman play Liszt 2nd concerto in the shed before heading for home.

The fall BSO season started off with Renee Fleming and Susan Graham doing a spectacular and very long concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier, followed a few weeks later by Dutoit conducting Bluebeard’s Castle.   Heard Helen Grimaud play both Brahms concerti in separate weekends, it had been quite a while since her previous BSO appearance.  And making his debut at age 92 was Menahem Pressler playing Mozart 27, probably the event of the fall season just because of his place in the pantheon.

Non-BSO symphony concerts consisted of a visit to New Philharmonia to see Tina Packer and other members of Shakespeare & Co reading scenes from Hamlet in between Shostakovich film score. In our trip to Rutgers last month we saw the university orchestra do a semi-staged version of L’enfant et les Sortileges, with some other French music in the first half of the program.

In opera, while I snubbed BLO yet again, I did manage to see a few staged operas this year during the summer. Odyssey Opera did Gluck’s “Ezio”, which shows how desperate I was to see an opera but it was fine.  Boston Midsummer Opera did two one-acts by Donizetti and Mascagni at the Arsenal center, which was a little hard to find but if they decide to stay there now I know where it is.  Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” was the better of the two.  Our July weekend in western Mass and upstate New York was mostly in support of Justin’s concert at Jazz in July, but it also included my first visit to Saratoga Opera to hear Il Postino, which was the highlight of the year.  On the musical front, the family joined me during a quick Cape trip to our first performance at College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, to see Gershwin’s “Of Thee I Sing”, it’s a venue I would like to return to next year.

On the solo front, I heard Jeremy Denk do a varied and eclectic Celebrity Series program, nice variety of unusual repertoire if not as much a standout as last year’s Rockport program.  Roberto Poli gave a benefit recital for BPA that included some memorably romantic Haydn.  Lisa de la Salle had a disappointing showing at Rockport, finishing off with Brahms’ Handel Variations that ended in a train wreck, but I liked her Rachmaninoff Etude encore enough to try it myself.  I heard one concert in Ashburnham,  a 4-person piano faculty concert at Rivers School, and Imogen Cooper at the Celebrity Series, along with masterclasses by Yale’s Melvin Chen and the aforementioned Mr. Denk.  On the non-professional side, All-Newton school put on a two-piano recital featuring many of my BPA cronies.

In chamber recitals I heard a great rendition of standard trio repertoire by Lars Vogt and the Teztlaffs with Celebrity Series, two NEC concerts at Old South meeting house, Sasha Korsantia playing the Dvorak quintet at NEC’s First Monday concert, a fabulous concert by Trio Solisti at Rockport (probably the standout of the year), Bruckner at a Tanglewood prelude concert, another Rivers faculty concert that included the Dumky trio and the Debussy violin sonata, an very compelling lecture/recital of the Shostakovich String Quartet #3 at Wellesley in a small overcrowded room,  a weird faculty concert of transcriptions and new music for the combination of cello and string bass at Tufts,  a great faculty program of American chamber music at NEC and most of another student NEC program of violin sonatas, and finally my first Winterreise with Thomas Ades and Ian Bostridge at Celebrity Series.  I prepped for the Schubert with the score and Hermann Prey’s recording for several weeks beforehand, not as in depth as I wanted but it was good to have some grounding in what to expect going into the live version.

On the personal front I did a recital of my own in September in Marlborough that I called a Schubertiade, with Schubert’s Op 42 A Minor Sonata in the first half, and then joined by Jagan-nath and David for the Op 99 trio. The recital was reasonably well attended, although ironically not by the people who said they were too busy for a spring concert but could come to one in the fall.  I made two appearances with Seele, first as my Beethoven Society debut in Melrose doing mostly Handel, followed by a Good Friday service/performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  I accompanied 5 summer sings for Masterworks, which may be a record, fortunately all stuff I knew well, plus a first-ever summer sing in the fall with NWC.  I was asked to fill in at Plymouth Church once this summer, for which I prepared a variety of Bach including some of the Goldbergs.  There was also a rare appearance at a Masterworks rehearsal for auditions.  I attended and played at 7 BPA soirees this year, from Gloucester to Eastham.  I also count 14 meetings for reading chamber music, including rehearsals for the aforementioned Schubert concert, but also a meeting at Kilmer’s house to play through the Brahms and Schumann quintets, which was years in the planning.  I also count 11 concerts involving MHS, primarily Justin’s jazz band and combo, and two visits to UMass to hear Justin during Jazz in July.

I don’t know what that adds up to but it sounds like a lot, although it’s probably about 20% of what I could do if I chose not to see my family at all. This fall was a little more restrained than normal just because of college visits or the potential for college visits, and I had to spring for a ticket to a few BSO performances even if it was a Café date just to make sure I wasn’t shut out of the beginning of the program (particularly with Yo-Yo Ma and with Rosenkavalier).  The first part of 2017 will probably be similar, more college visits to come have precluded me from committing to any Celebrity Series concerts in advance, but I hope to catch a few of them.  Going to the BSO so often means I don’t want to miss any even if I’m not playing at the café, and now I’ve worked out a strategy for the rush tickets that prevents that from getting too expensive.  The downside is you really only want to commit to driving into Boston once a week, so it prevents checking out otherwise worthy concerts that coincide on the schedule, but it’s the BSO so you can hardly complain.  I think only two concerts this year were out of state, it would be nice to expand on that next year and get back to the Met or another orchestra.  The 3-day visit to the Berkshires was great, and not completely loaded with concerts which allowed for time for outdoor activities and an afternoon performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Shakespeare & Co, although their decision to put in a show-stopping rap musical number toward the end makes me leery of going back.  The last couple weeks of December are generally pretty quiet on the concert front, so I’m ready to get started again with the new year.

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College search update

Dec 27, 2016

After an embarrassingly long yet strangely typical hiatus, let’s try to get back on track with something that will be interesting to my future self, the story so far in the college search round 2.

This time last year, and all the way through the spring, you couldn’t get Justin to talk at all about looking at colleges. It’s somewhat understandable that the thought of making such a big commitment is scary at that age, and as Beth pointed out at the time, he was already top dog in his current environment, so why ponder changing the status quo?  This is in contrast to Chloe, who was also stressed out about the thought of deciding her future but at the same time couldn’t wait to graduate and get out of the boro.

But at some point over the summer Justin came to terms with his fate and I had put together a preliminary list of schools, based on the premise that he really wanted to pursue music in general and jazz in particular. His dedication to practicing and his immersion in many of the famous practitioners’ styles and recordings makes a compelling case that this is what he wants to do, regardless of his straight A’s in academics and various other interests, so while I half-heartedly would try to offer up an alternative career path, there didn’t seem to be much point.  Unlike with Chloe, music has been a main focus for him since second grade, and so even while he held back on investigating the college options, his high school strategy made that path inevitable.  There’s also some debate in jazz circles as to whether jazz should even be taught or be a degree program at the college level, that the real way to “learn” jazz is by doing.

In the fall of junior year we went to a college fair at BU for performing arts, and got to talk to several school representatives. I did most of the talking.  This past summer he spent two weeks at UMass Amherst at their annual jazz camp and was in his element, although he came out of it with an unfavorable impression of UMass.  From looking at various websites and confining our focus to the northeast, the short list of schools I came up with included NEC, Berklee, SUNY Purchase, Rutgers, and Temple (and UMass, which he then nixed), to which Justin added Juilliard (well why not), New School (kinda pricey, even compared to NEC and Berklee) and Hartt School (surprising since his predecessor in lead alto goes there). So four conservatories and four universities, I’m still in favor of the universities not even so much because of the inherent fall back options, which I don’t think will be an issue with him, but mostly to get a more typical college experience, plus they’re all cheaper than the conservatories, even with out of state tuition.  The front runner changes periodically, it was NEC, and then it was one of the NY schools, lately he says it doesn’t matter.

Chloe only applied to 4 schools although we visited several more, and the ones she focused on all used the common app, plus there were still portfolios to assemble, upload and review, with different requirements for each school. With Justin’s list it was more complicated, only half of them use the common app, a few wanted a pre-audition video, again with different requirements for each school, but Justin did a good job in keeping track of all the various requirements and deadlines and mostly came to us only for help with an essay or when he needed a credit card to pay the application fee.  BTW, Berklee wins the application fee sweepstakes with $150, which you pay before you even get to page 2 of the application.  Harvard meanwhile is $80 or so, by comparison.  The universities typically want you to apply to them first, then once you’re accepted you apply to their music school, with separate application fees (and deadlines) for each.

I’m a fan of using a tour or open house to help acclimate yourself to a school prior to applying. NEC didn’t seem to warrant a tour, since it’s mostly in one building, and their website even says as much and why don’t you just come to a concert instead.  We did an open house at Berklee on a Saturday morning that hosted a ton of people with no free food and no good place to congregate, so on arrival you just lined up outside on the sidewalk and they divided you off for a tour, which covered the outsides and lobbies of several buildings but not much of the interiors.  Their focus seems to be directly on pop music, but it’s a big school, so even a relatively small jazz program for them is still on the bigger side compared to other schools.

Justin and I went to an open house at University of Hartford on a Saturday morning, they put on a good show, he wasn’t impressed with the campus.   We took a trip to New York to have a tour at New School, where everyone else was there to see Parsons so we got a private tour and got to talk to the student tour guide at some length about the search process and strategy.  The New York schools seem to have conspired to schedule their tours at overlapping times, so we couldn’t see Juilliard the same day, and does it really matter what it looks like on the inside, it’s Juilliard.  We just walked around the lobby and went to the bookstore.  Instead we took the train to the upper west side for a tour of Manhattan School of Music, which wasn’t on the list but had the connection of being the alma mater of the coach Justin had at UMass last summer, after that tour he added it to the list for applying.

On a separate weekend we drove to New Jersey to an open house at Rutgers’ Mason Gross school for performing arts, which started at 4pm when it was already almost dark, sort of unusual to do a campus tour at night, but it was in conjunction with a orchestra concert that evening that we were able to get in on. Mason Gross is in a separate, more modestly sized campus just outside downtown New Brunswick, much less intimidating than the enormous main campus across the river, which we saw by car on our own.  The next day we had a general tour at Temple in Philadelphia, followed by a meeting with an admissions guy at their music school.  Philly has the advantage of having a decent jazz scene and not so many music schools, and Temple is right in the middle of the city, with food trucks lining the streets everywhere because there’s no one building big enough to hold everyone.  Since it was a general tour we saw some things like the computer lab and the science building which Justin would never see again, but I think he was pleasantly surprised by both schools.  Never did make it to SUNY, and then Justin realized he’d misread the application deadline, which was earlier for their music school than the school in general, so we took that one off the list, but it was a longshot candidate anyway.

At the moment, Justin has been accepted by Berklee, the only school to have a live audition in December. That was kind of fun, there were a few hundred kids there on a Saturday to audition, mostly for voice and guitar.  They had you hang out in a small concert hall with a list projected on the back wall of the stage to show when your number was called, while a student combo entertained the masses.  Justin felt both the audition and interview went well, and he was proven correct.  The same day he heard from Berklee he got an e-mail from MSM saying don’t bother to come audition in person, it’s no fun to get rejected but there’s no way to know why, was the pre-audition video not sufficient, or did they not need that many altos?  Since they were a late addition it wasn’t a big deal, I probably had a more favorable impression of MSM than New School since it’s more of a traditional performing arts school, where New School is still in the process of integrating their recent acquisition of Mannes into the main campus, much like Berklee with Boston Conservatory.  Probably should start hearing from the others next week when everyone is back from vacation.  Temple is kind of my favorite right now, but they could easily be replaced by another school that undercuts their price.

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