The A-list contains works that are already familiar to most concertgoers either through live performances or recordings. Their presence on programs means that audiences can anticipate their experience and compare their expectations with what they actually hear, for better or worse. The B-list, however, consists of works by composers which may be familiar, but which are less often performed, and therefore may offer listeners a first-time concert experience. Such was the case with the program offered by the TMC Monday night at Tanglewood. Membership in the B-list does not imply second-rate quality; it simply means that those responsible for programming (orchestra managers, conductors, commissioning bodies) have less faith in such works to attract audiences who like to know what to expect.
A graph showing the reputation of Sibelius’s symphonies in the 20th century would look like a fever chart. When he wrote his first symphony at the very end of the 19th century, the composer was still struggling for recognition, and it took another decade for his work to receive international attention. Once that happened, his reputation rose to that of a composer whose music held the greatest interest for orchestras and audiences during a period when the early modernists were generating more polarized responses.
I’ve been harping on acoustics in my past few reviews, not only as a personal crotchet (which I must own), but because the issue has been cropping up of its own accord. It’s particularly frustrating that Chapin Hall at Williams is so fine to look at, while its sound it is so dismal, but to be fair, it was built for academic pomp, not music. What’s more the acoustically outstanding auditorium at the Clark is not often used for music. However, Berkshire County people are lucky to be in easy reach of several halls which are among the best in the worldÃ‚Â—I mean not only Symphony Hall in Boston, or the wonderful Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester (1857, sadly underused for music), the Sosnoff Theater at Bard’s Fisher Center (2003), which I’ve already discussed on several occasions, and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, also on the Hudson, built between 1871 and 1875 to the designs of George B. Post. It’s not the only concert hall to have been constructed as a multipurpose building, but its vaulted roof and Greek temple which dominate the rooftops and steeples of this once grand commercial city is unusual. Its acoustics are legendary, and I’ve wanted to hear music there for some time. I’m grateful that my responsibilities to BFA have allowed me to give it a priority, and I’ll most certainly come back regularly to hear this great hall, the excellent Albany Symphony, and as many as possible of the other compelling events it hosts.
Thomas Adès’ affinity for the music of Sibelius was manifest last summer when he led the TMC Orchestra in a program that included the Symphony no. 7. In my review of that performance, I called attention to the relationship between mystery and space that is evident in this music and is also a factor in Adès’s own works. These parameters were present in the current program but not as prominently: mystery was eclipsed by performances that were energetic even to the point of aggressiveness. This might have been a function of the need to project into the cavernous reaches of the shed; both Adès and Tetzlaff, the soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, favored large gestures, emotional intensity, and the upper end of the dynamic spectrum. The results were musically clear and impressive, appropriate for Adès’s own music but sometimes less so for Sibelius.
TMC orchestra performances tend to be somewhat haphazard assortments of repertory, mostly of high quality, but diverse rather than coherent as programs. Monday night’s concert was different: there were resonances among the works that indicated a triangle of influences and artistic interests with the apex being in the music of British composer Thomas Adès, who conducted half of the program.
Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.
Music making, one supposes wryly, can sometimes be a battle of influences. In this instance, simply put, how does one reconcile late romantic Sibelius with the compositional methods of Pierre Boulez? The very thought might give one chills….
I was intrigued to hear IRCAM’s Susanna Mälkki recently, and not simply to touch base with the new generation of influential women at the podium. I wanted to experience how her musical approach would walk the line between cerebral pointillism of the Boulezian sort and the kind of broad Barbirollian phrasing favored by Leif Segerstam, with whom she studied. Mälkki was one of the principal cellists in the Gothenburg Symphony — for Sibelius lovers a considerable entry on the romantic side of the ledger — but I find myself disappointed to say that in this instance the French modernists appear to have won most of the battles of influence.