Extraordinary Brahms and Shostakovich from Tonu Kalam and the UNC Symphony Orchestra

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Tonu Kalam Conducting the UNC Symphony Orchestra

Tonu Kalam Conducting the UNC Symphony Orchestra

UNC Symphony Orchestra Concert

Tuesday, Apr 23 7:30p
Brahms – Symphony No. 3
Shostakovich – Symphony No. 9

Brahms Third Symphony and Shostakovich in general have been very much on music-lovers’ minds over the past few months, from Stefan Asbury’s probing performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11—which found less beneath the surface than there seemed at first, the magnificent and ambitious cycle of Brahms solo piano and chamber works by Ian Hobbs and colleagues, Andris Nelsons’ Brahms Third with the BSO, which elicited mixed reactions from different listeners, depending on which performance they heard, an all-Shostakovich concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra under Gergiev at Carnegie Hall, which included the Eighth Symphony, and two concerts by the London Symphony under Haitink with the Fourth and Fifteenth Symphonies at Avery Fisher Hall, paired with Mozart piano concerti. We have already posted reviews of some of these, and others are forthcoming.

We’d like to resume our series of recorded concerts with an entire concert from the award-winning University of North Carolina Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Tonu Kalam. (The UNCSO was the 2012 first-place winner of The American Prize in Orchestral Performance—College/University Division, for their performance of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances.) The program happened to include not only the Brahms Third, but also Shostakovich’s Ninth.

It’s not our custom to review performances we post, but I will say a few words about this concert. Brahms’s Third Symphony is notoriously difficult to perform successfully. I have heard great conductors fail in it. The Toscanini story is famous. None of his NBC Symphony performances quite gel, and there was always much discussion about why this particular symphony, which seemed so well-suited to his temperament evaded him, until his splendid performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra became generally available as a recording many years after his last visit to London at the very end of his career. The puzzlement about Nelsons’ recent performance with the BSO is another case in point. Tonu Kalam has no such problem here. By adopting a gentle, lyrical approach to the work, Kalam achieves a performance that is musically and emotionally coherent—one of the finest I’ve heard. One might think Shostakovich and Brahms to be strange bedfellows, but in fact his high-spirited Ninth Symphony gets along with this Brahms Third very congenially. This is Shostakovich at his lightest and most playful. The spot-on phrasing and perfect timing of the players and their enthusiasm for the music makes this performance stand among the best. There could be no better demonstration of the heights to which Kalam has developed this orchestra.

Listen and enjoy the music!

About the author

The Editor

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts, an International Journal for the Arts and The Berkshire Review, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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