The Boston Symphony began the new year with a reduced ensemble, brilliantly conducted by the early music specialist Ton Koopman. The orchestra didn’t attempt gut strings or period winds and percussion in any way, but the players responded intuitively to Koopman’s brisk tempi and sprung phrasing, resulting in a satisfyingly vigorous, if not quite revelatory Haydn Symphony No. 98, the last of his first set of Salomon symphonies, followed by Yo-Yo Ma’s exuberant, somewhat exaggerated performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, a most welcome and impeccably played symphony by C. P. E. Bach, and a very beautiful Schubert “Unfinished,” limpid in texture and phrased with fine taste and feeling. I’ll say more about this in the context of Alan Gilbert’s almost simultaneous concert, which also paired Schubert’s Eighth with a Haydn symphony of an entirely different kind.
I first talked to Michael Steinberg on stage. The work was Schoenberg’s massive “Gurrelieder”. I was singing the part of the Bauer, and he was taking the part of Der Sprecher, a role written in Sprechstimme, halfway between speaking and singing. Michael’s German, remembered from childhood, always had a kind of English tinge to it, and he was an elfin presence anyway. I remember particularly the physical way he intoned the last lines: “Erwacht, Erwacht, ihr Blumen zur Wonne” with all his might and main, his small body shaking. Michael had a child’s kind of wonder. Sitting on stage next to each other, he lost no time in giving me a quick review of an operatic performance I had just sung.