Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music: Old Copland, New Carter, and Others

Varieties of modern orchestral experience, British and American, were on display at the concluding event of this summer’s Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, with three out of four offerings featuring the full (or over-full) resources of large ensembles. The Carter song-cycle used the pared-down configuration of a good-sized chamber-orchestra to support the solo soprano. Each work inhabited a distinctive sound-world and had its own conductor; it was almost as if we were hearing four different orchestras. It would be neat if I could diagram the four pieces as the points on a musical compass, but the chronological distance between the Copland (1946) and the rest (1982-2010) was such that the picture would look more like a buried root system connected to the leafy ends of three branches, and not all even belonging to the same tree. (Freud said that you are bound to run into problems if you try to construct a physical model of the mind; I’m having the same problem with this set of pieces.) But one implicit subtext may have inadvertently bound three of the four works together, that of war and peace.

Tanglewood: an updated 2010 Season Preview, and a Backwards Look at 2009 – James Levine not to appear.

The news I have been expecting has now officially arrived:

James Levine will withdraw from his concerts with the BSO and Tanglewood Music Center due to further recuperation time needed after recent back surgery.

Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the BSO opening night performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on July 9, and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Mozart’s Requiem on July 16, as well as the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 on July 17.

Christoph von Dohnányi will conduct the staged Tanglewood Music Center Production of Strauss’s Ariadne Auf Naxos on August 1 And 2.

Johannes Debus will have his BSO Debut, conudctin Mozart’s The Abduction From Seraglio on July 23

Hans Graf will lead the BSO in program of marches, waltzes, and polkas by the Strauss Family on July 25 .

An announcement about substitute conductor for program of Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Soprano Hei-Kyung Hong on July 31 will be forthcoming.

These and other changes have been entered in the season schedule below.

What can one say to this? I left my opening sentence as it was, because Maestro Levine’s cancellations are now routine. I wrote a defense of the Maestro back in February, and that still stands. Levine has improved the orchestra, organized some excellent programs, and conducted some brilliant performances, along with some mediocre ones. There is nothing sadder than being unable to work, especially if it is an artistic vocation to which one is devoted, and Mr. Levine’s health may well be out of his control, but he has disappointed his audiences and his TMC students for too long. He has missed 60% of his BSO engagements this past season, and now there is more. We don’t know what to expect next season, either at the BSO or at the Met, where Levine was to inaugurate a much-publicized new Ring Cycle. There is enough evidence for us to conclude that he is truly physically incapable of pursuing the agenda he has taken up at both institutions. It is time for him to cut back his commitments to the point where he can give his best to his public and his students on a reliable, if not consistent basis.

The Seattle Ring 2009

I am extremely reluctant to take a position as a Wagnerian traditionalist. Life is hard enough as it is without entering a futile battle against the now generation-old invasion of directorial Goths, who consider all the specifics of Wagner’s poems and especially the stage directions in them to be automatically transferrable to some other set of references entirely different from Wagner’s own mythological cosmos. I’ve also had the luxury of having Otto Schenk’s fine Metropolitan Opera production as my “home” Ring. I’ve also done my best to keep an open mind for the good qualities of more manipulated efforts like the Warner-Lazarides production at the Royal Opera House, which I mostly liked, because it was intelligently conceived and maintained a trackable relation to Wagner’s original…although in retrospect I think I spent an undue amount of time meditating on the meaning of the crashed aeroplane in the first act of Siegfried—which was in itself just as cool as it gets. I’ve referred to the final performances of the Ring as a last call for traditional Rings at major opera houses, but I was wrong. The Seattle Opera, which is most definitely a major opera house, has just presented the third of four iterations of a production, which is recognizable as a traditional production, even more than Schenk’s, although its organizers deny that it is intended as a “traditional” Ring.

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