Composer Helen Grime

Two Premieres and Revival of a Standard and a Forgotten Charmer at Tanglewood: Asbury, Aspinall, and Farrell Conducting the TMC Orchestra; Intimacies of O’Keefe and Stieglitz by Kevin Puts Premiered by the BSO under Nelsons

My own Tanglewood season began with this solid program in Seiji Ozawa Hall: a neglected program piece by an early 20th century composer, once more famous than he is today because of two isolated tone poems, the premiere of a substantial new work by a prominent former TMC Fellow, and a fresh look at an over-familiar symphony—the warhorse of all warhorses, some might say—by one of the canonical 19th century composers.

Emanuel Ax joins the BSO and Andris Nelsons for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat. Photo Hilary Scott.

Tanglewood’s Boston Symphony Orchestra Opening Night, Friday, July 5, 2019: Mozart Piano Concerto in E Flat, K. 482 and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony

On Friday night as evening approached, a quintet of wind players from the Boston Symphony, joined by excellent pianist Jonathan Bass, set the mild summer air of Ozawa Hall in motion with an elegant program of wind music well-suited to assist listeners transition from the pleasures of a perfect day in the Berkshires to the orchestral depths of tragedy, passion, and triumph by nightfall. Mozart initiated both programs with elegant, joyful, and subtly profound works composed at the apex of his career: the piano and winds quintet, which he professed to be his favorite among works composed to that point, and the concerto, no. 22, which (along with no. 23) stands unostentatiously between better-known works on either side (nos. 20 and 21 preceding, nos. 24 and 25 following).

Thomas Adès leads the BSO in the suite to his opera, Powder Her Face, 7.22.18. Photo Hilary Scott.

More Strength Than Mystery—the Musical Spaces of Adès and Sibelius

Thomas Adès’ affinity for the music of Sibelius was manifest last summer when he led the TMC Orchestra in a program that included the Symphony no. 7.  In my review of that performance, I called attention to the relationship between mystery and space that is evident in this music and is also a factor in Adès’s own works.  These parameters were present in the current program but not as prominently: mystery was eclipsed by performances that were energetic even to the point of aggressiveness.  This might have been a function of the need to project into the cavernous reaches of the shed; both Adès and Tetzlaff, the soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, favored large gestures, emotional intensity, and the upper end of the dynamic spectrum.  The results were musically clear and impressive, appropriate for Adès’s own music but sometimes less so for Sibelius.

Five in the Afternoon, and more…the Boston Classical Season, So Far

Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra, led by Sir Antonio Pappano, with guest soloist Martha Argerich, visited Symphony Hall on Sunday, October 22nd, performing at the rather unusual hour of 5 p.m. Going into the concert, I was overtaken by the suggestion of my title for this review. Thinking of Lorca and Hemingway, who between them immortalized the phrase “Five in the Afternoon,” in connection with bullfighting, I wondered if we concert goers were in for a strong flavor of doom, transcended through ritual and magnificence. No such thing. The concert was all beauty and vitality, though certainly with magnificence about it.  This stunning event was the best orchestral concert of the fall in Boston.

Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

Arnold Böcklin, Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle, oil on canvas, 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Youthful Mozart, (Over-)Ripe Mahler from Andris Nelsons and the BSO, Daniel Lozakovich, Violin

here seem to be two kinds of Mahler conductors: those who scrupulously adhere to the composer’s very detailed performing instructions, letting the score speak for itself, and those who add interpretive value to those instructions, prolonging ritards into moments of stasis, dwelling lovingly on details, pulling apart the inner workings of Mahler’s original harmonic language, and ecstatically prolonging climactic moments. To put the matter up front, I am a strong partisan of the first approach, and usually have a negative response to the second.

Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

Andris Nelsons conudcts the Mahler Ninth at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scatt.

Nelsons at Tanglewood 2016, One Weekend

Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.

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