Richard Pittman's repertoire includes a broad spectrum of traditional and contemporary works for, , , , and .
Comments from published reviews
Philharmonic joins voices in stirring "War Requiem," March 5, 2012
The conductor Richard Pittman could easily
fill his New England Philharmonic season exclusively with performances of
well-known symphonic staples, but he instead chooses to infuse his programs
with a spirit of inquiry and exploration. It’s an approach that speaks for
itself. Last year, when ASCAP presented 26 ensembles from around the country
with its annual awards for adventurous programming, Pittman’s NEP won the
first-place award in its budget class.
In addition to maintaining a healthy
commitment to music by living composers, Pittman has occasionally tackled
landmark 20th-century masterworks that might be seen as lying outside the
purview of an orchestra with a modest budget, a handful of performance dates
per year, and a mixed roster of professional, amateur, and student players. In
2007, for instance, the NEP gave the first performance of Berg’s “Wozzeck’’
heard in Boston in two decades.
This year, in celebration of the orchestra’s 35th anniversary, Pittman set his sights on Britten’s massive “War Requiem,’’ a moving statement of pacifism premiered in England in 1962 to consecrate a new church built in Coventry, where a German air raid early in World War II had destroyed its famous cathedral. The “War Requiem’’ has since become one of Britten’s most celebrated works, no longer a rarity, yet every performance still counts as an occasion.
So on Saturday night there was a sense of event in the air as a large crowd streamed into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Washington Street to hear Pittman and the NEP joined by the combined forces of the Chorus Pro Musica and the Providence Singers (both are directed by Betsy Burleigh) and the Boston Children’s Chorus (directed by Anthony Trecek-King).
Britten’s work itself brings together the traditional Catholic requiem mass for the dead with settings of pointed antiwar poetry by Wilfred Owen, a poet who fought and died on the battlefields of World War I. And this interweaving of sources is key to the music’s potency, as the broad and timeless Latin prayers are by turns sharpened, deepened, and even sometimes undercut by Owen’s verse, which itself holds a mirror to the horrors of modern industrialized warfare and to the tragic futility of a conflict that sent a generation of Europe’s youth, as Owen writes, to “die as cattle’’ in its trenches.
Britten calls for large musical forces but deploys them judiciously, with Owen’s texts sung by tenor and baritone soloists. The large mixed chorus with soprano soloist take on the bulk of the Latin requiem texts, with a few of their most ethereal moments assigned to an overtly angelic children’s chorus supported by organ. Saturday’s concert turned the vast dimensions of the cathedral to its advantage by placing the Boston’s Children’s Chorus (which, by the way, did itself proud) in an organ loft at the rear of the church, maximizing the sense of celestial distance.
On the whole, it was an impressively poised, solemn, and moving performance that brought honor to all the ensembles involved. The soloists were particularly fine, with tenor Frank Kelley singing with clarion tone and stirring immediacy, and baritone Sumner Thompson matching him with gravity, dignity, and pathos. (Their duo “So Abram rose,’’ Owen’s harrowing distortion of the Old Testament story of the binding of Isaac, became one of the evening’s most memorable moments.) Sarah Pelletier displayed a robust and affecting soprano, cresting above the well-blended chorus.
The orchestra played well, too, even if some of the intricate inner details of Britten’s scoring were lost in the massive cathedral space. Plenty of those details did come through, especially in the sprawling “Dies Irae’’ movement, home to some of the most devastating Owen texts but also capped on Saturday by choral singing of great tenderness and beauty.
It was ultimately a performance that made its impact less through thunder and dramatic heat than through its unity of character and emotional precision. On the podium Pittman eschewed imperious high drama in favor of clear gestures that projected a seriousness of purpose and a more soft-spoken humility. The grandeur of this music, he clearly knew, could speak for itself. Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe
"For the past forty-two years, Boston Musica Viva has distinguished
itself by presenting works by living (or recently living) composers
with a passion that comes of deep conviction. It would be every
composer's dream to have a work played with the technical precision and
emotional commitment that is offered by Richard Pittman and his
assembly of musicians, all of whom play at the top of their game.
With that kind of performance, a composer's work stands on its
own feet. Or not. Friday night's performance (May 6, 2011)
at the Tsai Performance Center was another in this long line of
well-conceived and executed excursions."
"Cello Concerto for Ma premieres, Boston Musica Viva,
Tanglewood--The performance of Appalachian Spring, led by BMV director
Richard Pittman, was lovely. It mercifully lacked the
thousand-and-one-strings sentimentality of some big orchestras and
moved with a genuine dance impulse."
"Musica Viva serves tasty new fare--Richard Pittman always has
something up his sleeve. The adventurous director of Boston Musica
Viva, the city’s premier new music ensemble, presented a
fascinating program last night."
"Seldom-heard Pelleas rings with conviction, Concord
Orchestra--Richard Pittman conducts the work with conviction and a
profound affection that held it all together and carried us all along."
"The Concord Orchestra scores a triumph with the rarely seen
"Pelleas and Melisande"--If the Concord Orchestra’s concert
performance of Claude Debussy’s "Pelleas et Melisande" last
weekend could be reduced to one word, that word would be "triumph."
Under Richard Pittman’s extraordinary leadership, and strongly
cast, the community based group did more that "get through" one of the
most difficult pieces of early 20th-century operatic literature: it
claimed it as its own."
"Boston Musica Viva soars--The performances were at the high level
we have come to depend on from conductor Richard Pittman and Musica
"Lunatic tunes, Boston Musica Viva--Music Director Richard Pittman
led the proceedings with his customary calm clarity, eliciting
"New England Philharmonic--Mozart’s Prague Symphony, which
came after intermission was done with all its repeats (therefore
grandly), and with divided violins, and with a new music
specialist’s emphasis on making it all clear. By the end it had
taken on a joyful fizz."
"Boston Musica Viva stretches its multiculturism theme--The
performance by the expert Musica Viva instrumentalists and Richard
Pittman was first class."
Copyright © 2004 Richard Pittman. All rights reserved.