Last summer two extraordinary new conductors made their Tanglewood debuts, both of whom are former concertmasters, the Finn John Storgårds and Jaap van Zweden, who held the post at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Both enjoyed enormous successes. Van Zweden, now around fifty, turned to conducting in his mid-thirties (after a career concertmaster of the Concertgebouw from the age of eighteen!), and soon came into important music directorships in the Netherlands, those of the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in Hilversum. Since his appointment as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2008, he has been making sparks fly in the U.S. with his electric interpretations and the quality of playing he elicits from the orchestras he conducts.
Mark Volpe and his organization pulled off an impressive feat in creating this season at such short notice. Former Music Director James Levine submitted his resignation only after most symphony orchestras, including the BSO, have established their programming for the next season and published it to waiting subscribers. Add to that the need to corral a feasible number of potential candidates for the open position of Music Director. The Boston Symphony’s 2011-12 is not only solid and nutritious, it is even rather exciting—apart from the added piquancy of the search. The fall will be mainly given over to guest conductors who have worked with the BSO for many years, or at least a few times in the past. The serious contenders for the permanent position will begin later on.
I get in my little car, and I go to marvelous things. My favorite is the Mohawk Trail Concerts. This marvelous series, run by Ruth Black, was for years the summer destination of the great Jan DeGaetani, and still boasts yearly visits from Joan Morris and William Bolcom. At various times I have heard the Fiordiligi who was singing Don Giovanni with James Levine at Tanglewood, a young woman who was sitting principal cellist later in the summer for a great performance of the Alpine Symphony with Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and major artists like Carol Wincenc. I have never heard a bad concert in this venue. The structure itself is a small church in the hamlet of Charlemont, Mass. Everything about the concert is informal. Mrs. Black speaks elegantly before each concert. One feels like one is at home. There is an almost bewildering variety to the series. It is not expensive. This summer I heard an all-too-rare performance of Fauré’s piano quartet, Op.15 played by an old friend, John van Buskirk and the other members of the La Belle Alliance trio. This was limpid, detailed playing with an acute sense of the quick-changing affect Fauré’s music possesses, early or late. The trio made these shifts, like the shifts in thinking itself, into a consistent rhetoric that showed me how neglected this masterpiece is. It was an unaffected performance, which I was able to hear from about ten feet away. When you go, take note of a magnificent elm tree just across the street from the church. The elm is majestic. The church is humble. Hearing music in these concerts is a real experience, not a media event.