The first, the Amadeus Orchestra, conducted by the twenty-something Louis Lohraseb—a friend and erstwhile student of mine. These young musicians came to the hall from New Haven in a bus, played a rehearsal, and then an unforgettable concert thereafter. Featured was the excellent young cellist Cicely Parnas in the Haydn Concerto no. 1, which she played with great energy and style, the orchestral accompaniment pristine.
n 1862–63 Anton Bruckner composed the Overture in G minor. In contrast with the earlier Four Orchestral Pieces and the next Symphony in F minor, the Overture appears a much more mature work. Bruckner’s characteristics are already present: the opening subject with his octave interval in unison – as that of the main theme of the Ninth Symphony, the full orchestral chords followed by semiquaver runs, and the second slower subject with its large interval leaps, which is prefiguring the descending motive of the Adagio of the Fifth Symphony. The work contains at bars 271–275 a descending scale similar to the “Sleep leitmotiv” of the not yet composed Act 3 of Wagner’s Walküre.
What might have been a confusion of bedfellows in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall did not turn out to be so. Returning to the hall after intermission one saw the instrumentalists of Les Violons du Roy, a period orchestra fronted by a large Steinway, its lid held high. This would have been sacrilege in Boston, but it worked. Marc-André Hamelin, that master of pianistic detail, found easy company with the subtle players of the renowned orchestra. Les Violons are not afraid to make a luscious sound now and then. In the slow air from Rameau’s Les Boreads which opened the concert, the bassoon solo gave us what might have been the most beautiful five minutes of the evening—her counter-melody just that little bit too slow and its sound beguiling.
Sincerity shown brightly in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol this year. The show fit beautifully into the Colonial Theatre. It looked stunning. There was no excessive amplification—a thousand thank-you’s for that! Even after several iterations, all cast members from the smallest chirping child to master actor Eric Hill as Scrooge, came right at us with intensity and sweetness. The show is so well-constructed that it completes the novella, makes it richer. Actors of all ages found ways to advance the performances of their peers. This was one of the best productions I have seen this year, because it really did the impossible—it combined scenic opulence with direct, honest playing.
Rory Kinnear’s incisive Iago made a trip to The Clark a joy last week. The National Theatre’s production of Othello had a mild-mannered Othello, a hipster Desdemona, and a working-class Iago whose asides had enough energy to pass through walls and ring in the halls, though the other actors seemed not to hear them. His was a display of words — words which could go any which way and say any which thing.
Perennial spring. The Vienna Philharmonic never wants for love and respect, being showered with both almost beyond measure. Their PR department must consist of an answering machine that says, “Thanks for adoring us. Maybe we’ll call you back.” Since their principal season is spent in the opera house, the Philharmonic gives few orchestral concerts compared with the world’s other premiere ensembles. After earning raves and an audience hanging from the rafters at the Proms this summer, these august visitors were described by one London critic as “lifetime members of the high table.” It’s become de rigeur to carp about the absence of women in the orchestra (I counted three), but otherwise, a critic might as well push a macro key on his computer set to endless praise.
The first three programs of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra this year have made a nice historical progression from the late Baroque of Vivaldi, to that of central Europe and England with Bach, Zelenka and Handel, now to the late classical period. The fortepiano has come out to replace the harpsichord and the orchestra grown with thicker string sections and clarinets to bring us Haydn and the Italian trumpet virtuoso Gabriele Cassone. For the Haydn G major Symphony, the so-called “Surprise,” Paul Dyer conducts from behind the fortepiano bench, and lays chords oftentimes too while using his body and shoulders to conduct. Though we can catch at times some of the period reproduction fortepiano’s beautiful sonorities, it is too large a hall really to do it justice and often it gets swallowed in the orchestra, but no matter, that is not its purpose here, though it does make a slight difference in color. What is important is that with the larger (late) classical orchestra, the conductor is necessary and conductorly music-making is readily audible here. With more dynamic possibilities from the backed-up strings, and timpani, and opportunities to use them thanks to Haydn (not to mention Gluck!) — and Maestro Dyer (though he never gives himself the label “conductor”) does know how to use it — the orchestra adapts naturally and readily to the new-sounding late 18th century palate. The strings have more solidity, they are still clear, very precise, with guest concertmaster Madeleine Easton leading them with her beautiful playing, but with more structure, polished but with a fine texture by virtue of the gut strings and the varied shapes and sizes of the violins. The orchestra is set up with cellos on the left next to the first violins, and basses, violas and second violins on the right, horns on the back left, trumpets (natural baroque ones) on the back right with the woodwinds in between.
In this special version of the popular annual “Tanglewood on Parade” concert, the 75th anniversary of the festival as we know it (more or less) was duly celebrated. On August 5, 1937, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed an all-Beethoven concert under Music Director Serge Koussevitzky. (I have already mentioned this in my review of the commemorative repreise of the same program on July 6.) This was the first concert of the Berkshire Symphonic Festival, as it was then known, both with the Boston Symphony and on the same property, Tanglewood, which has been the home of the orchestra ever since.