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.
This preview of this year’s Tanglewood season has been revised twice already, and here come James Levine’s cancellations of all his Tanglewood engagements. The Pelléas et Mélisande will be replaced by a TMC Orchestra concert. The other programs will proceed as scheduled. Levine’s replacements will be announced in June. I’ll discuss the wider implications of this later in The Boston Musical Intelligencer. In the last version of this preview I introduced the following paragraph to mitigate the peevish tone in which I began. It still holds true, I think.
On taking my seat in the Music Shed, I was surprised to see the gentlemen of the BSO in shirtsleeves — and it was a pleasant surprise. Their playing of Mahler’s Second was very much a shirtsleeves sort of performance, and that was also a pleasant surprise. I’ve heard that Michael Tilson Thomas had very little rehearsal time for this concert. This made itself heard, I thought, in a certain lack of concentration in the fifth movement — entirely unlike the first three movements, which were intensely focused, if anything. Even with this proviso, the performance was an impressive success. MTT took charge of the orchestra with total confidence and produced his personal sound and interpretation from the orchestra with authority and conviction — and it was precisely this that made the performance so outstanding.
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.