'Keeping Score' DVDs:Ives for the Holidays, Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Berlioz Symphonie fantastique (SFS Media)
San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas has a solid reputation when it comes to employing new media to further the cause of music education and outreach.
In 2009, he conducted the YouTube Orchestra, bringing together mostly amateur players from over 30 countries who submitted audition videos to the popular website to win a spot on the Carnegie Hall stage.
The 2006 Keeping Score television series—comprised of three taped episodes and two live concerts that were broadcast nationally on PBS stations—found the conductor delivering impassioned narratives that delved into the biographies of great composers and explained the back stories of their works.
These three titles from the 2009 season use vintage film and photo footage, on-camera interviews with the SFS musicians, historical recreations, musical demonstrations, location shoots, and straight-forward narration to explore the motivations, emotional lives, and artistic goals of these composers.
The results are colorful introductions to great artists who often seem remote to casual music listeners. “If he was alive today,” Tilson Thomas says of Charles Ives, explaining the New England composer’s simple American upbringing, “they’d run him for president.”
He then proceeds to detail methodically the composer’s sometimes strident avant-garde side, bringing this richly layered music into a fine focus.
Throughout the series, Tilson Thomas challenges viewers to understand monumental artists whose provocative works demand our attention. And he succeeds in making us understand just why that effort is so worthwhile.
The bonus features include full-length concert performances of the works in high- definition wide screen and 5.1 surround sound (the Ives title is recorded in 7.1 surround sound). These DVDs are also available in Blu-Ray.