After the sparkling performance of George Gershwin’s little gem of variations on one of his most popular songs, an audience member asked her husband “Do you want to stay after intermission?” Certainly the atmosphere had been more that of a Pops concert with hearty applause after the first movement of the concerto as well as an ovation at the end; but at that moment it struck me that the ears that savored the pleasures of Gershwin might not relish the kaleidoscopic astringencies of Stravinsky. The much less enthusiastic audience reception for the ballet score affirmed this, despite a performance that capably revealed the colors and shapes of this astonishing breakthrough work.
It was James Levine’s many cancelations that most directly led to his (perhaps forced) resignation as the Boston Symphony Orchestra music director in the spring of 2011. But Levine has no monopoly on health problems and accidents. The glow of the two superlative concerts I attended at Tanglewood (July 19 and 20) was clouded over by the startling announcement that Levine’s young and healthy replacement, 34-year-old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, was unable to conduct the July 27 Verdi Requiem, his first scheduled concert since his appointment, because he had suffered a “severe concussion” after being “struck in the head by a door that unexpectedly swung open at his residence in Bayreuth, Germany.” Nelsons came to the attention of the BSO when he filled in for Levine at short notice, leading the Mahler Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. But last year, Nelsons cancelled his Boston debut at Symphony Hall because his wife, soprano Kristine Opolais, was having the couple’s first baby.
He comes out like Oberon, with hair of gold and a light step. It’s a very careful walk he has, nothing fancy, and he sits on the bench with a kind of directness and naturalness of purpose. The first notes are the “Menuet Antique.” I am sitting far away at this point, and I hear the jagged off-beats of the left hand hopping out. It takes no time to be lost in this world, a world of fantastic play and even more fantastic loneliness. Is it Jean-Yves Thibaudet, or is it Ravel? Always, when watching this pianist, I see a solitary soul. Nothing in his biography suggests this kind of singleness, far from it. So maybe it really is Ravel, dreaming in his little house, full of clocks. When Jean-Yves got to the “Pavane,” the sense of hearing an intimacy was complete. He played it at a good clip; but its tale is far from simple, like a Matisse. Ravel’s music is not child-like. It is the music of a child.