In the rather too large historical canon of unnecessary musical deaths, I've always been sorry that Jean-Baptiste Lully stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting staff during a concert. He was at the height of his powers, and the resulting infection killed him. Lully's music conveys an innate danceable grace that most Baroque music lacks — and a very human sense of sentiment — a sweet nostalgia rather like Mendelssohn's, in fact. Pablo Heras-Casado's program last Friday at the SFS was deliberately laid out as a neoclassic feast.
This concert was without a doubt one of the great events of the season, whether in Boston or New York, and certainly a high point in the BSO's unexpectedly patchy year, at least as far as guest conductors were concerned, which seemed almost miraculous on paper, given the short notice allowed by James Levine's final health setback, but in practice greatly curtailed by the cancellation of some the most distinguished conductors. Riccardo Chailly's coronary ailment forced him to cancel his two concerts and effectively put him out of the running for the empty music directorship. Andris Nelsons rather strangely decided to go on paternal leave barely more than a month before his scheduled concert. Ill-health made it necessary for Kurt Masur, one of the great interpreters of the Missa Solemnis, to back out of his engagement while already in rehearsal. It was, to say the least, reassuring to find Esa-Pekka Salonen appearing as scheduled with violinist Leila Josefowicz in an advanced stage of expectancy, much to the delight of her many fans in the audience.
The hollow man. Shostakovich was demoralized and spent after suffering a serious heart attack in 1964. The politically craven Symphony No. 12 and the politically courageous Symphony No. 13 had dangled him between the two poles of his nature. A visit from Benjamin Britten revived his spirits in 1967, and two years later Shostakovich produced one of his late masterpieces, the Violin Sonata, a severe work based, after Britten’s instigation, on the twelve-tone system. But as with Agon, which is twelve-tone but sounds every note like Stravinsky, the sonata’s gray, spare lament could have come from nobody but Shostakovich. It exhausts an audience, even the redoubtable Wiggies (that is, the faithful patrons of Wigmore Hall) but when a committed soloist plays it, a soul beats loudly inside the enervating despair.