I’ve already said much more than I ever wanted to about the state of the Tanglewood Festival and the pointless discussion stirred up by a few articles and editorials in the Berkshire Eagle—both in Berkshire Fine Arts and our current Commentary. Since the festival faces no real crisis either in finances or attendance, what matters is the music. This is James Levine’s fourth season as music director of the Boston Symphony. The various difficulties arising from his intense working methods, his health, and, I believe, the evolution of his own musicianship are now in the past. The orchestra and Tanglewood now form a larger part of his commitments. The orchestra now play better than they have in years, consistently on a very high level for Mr. Levine and for guest conductors as well. He conducted more BSO concerts than in previous summers, and he is thoroughly involved with the Tanglewood Music Center. Not every one of Levine’s interpretations may strike every listener as equally compelling, but I know of no one who shows such a passion for music in everything he does. His enthusiasm and high standards have made a most definite impression on Tanglewood, and now one can go there in the expectation of hearing interesting, if largely conservative programs played by the Boston Symphony at the top of their form, not to mention the superb TMC Orchestra and Opera Fellows, soloists and other extras which are making an appearance, most notably the series of world-class early music and historical instrument groups.
It seems particularly felicitous that this first concert review in The Berkshire Review for the Arts celebrates the very fine performances of two young musicians, who are not far from the very beginning of their careers. Pianist Shun-Yang Lee from Taipei, Taiwan, is a student of Melvin Chen and Peter Serkin at the Bard Conservatory of Music, and Korean baritone Yohan Yi is also a Bard Conservatory student. Lee performed this weekend as winner of the Second Annual Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition, and Yi recently performed at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in the Golijov/Upshaw Young Artists concert. This was a great evening for seasoned musicians as well. Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in a thoroughly Brahmsian performance of the Academic Festival Overture and a truly revelatory reading of Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World.”
Tradition has been lurking under every stone this summer, between local controversies about change at Tanglewood and the host of anniversaries which are being celebrated, beginning with the 60th of the Juilliard Quartet, the historic 59th of the Bartók Quartets at Tanglewood, Aston Magna’s 35th, and now the 30th anniversary of the renowned Tokyo Quartet’s residence at Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the Yale Summer School of Music. When they were officially founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music under the tutelage of the members of the Juilliard String Quartet, the world of the string quartet seemed to be thinning out, in spite of the appearance of the Guarneri in 1965, and the youthful, mop-headed string players from the Toho School of Music in Tokyo were most welcome. Cultivating a lean tone and an incisive, energetic style, they seemed the antithesis of the aging Budapest Quartet, which still actively represented the middle European Menschlichkeit of the early twentieth century.
The multi-talented Richard Giarusso continues to explore single-mindedly one vitally important and fascinating area in music—the relationship between music and text. Last summer he offered an original and moving interpretation on Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang, and, before he goes on to Die Winterreise this coming summer, he has given us an all-too-rare opportunity to hear perhaps the most sophisticated and eloquent fusion of text and music before Schubert, Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, a Lutheran funeral Mass to German texts, which Schütz wrote for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Posthumus Reuss, a member of the ruling family of the region in which Schütz was born. The eleven participating singers of the Aoede Consort (based in Troy, New York) and Giarusso’s direction were superb, but first, I’d like to provide some background.
The Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood closed on Monday, July 31 with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Blood on the Floor,” a long, ambitious piece for chamber orchestra with expanded winds and percussion, and a jazz quartet consisting of soprano saxophone, solo electric guitar and bass, and percussion. Now a mature ten years old, the suite has enjoyed fairly frequent performances in Britain and the U. S. over the years, not only because of the composer’s reputation, but clearly also because of its accessibility and quality. Both a recording and a DVD are easily available.