The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.
Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.
Ian Hobson's last appearance in New York was an ambitious Brahms cycle in September-October 2013. Extending over six weeks, it offered a comprehensive survey of Brahms' solo music for piano and his chamber music for piano. I praised this enthusiastically at the time not only for the intelligence and sensitivity of the playing, but for the thoughtful programming, and the outstanding program book, with extensive essays by Paul Griffiths, O.B.E. Just last week, Ian Hobson began an equally ambitious series of six recitals, even more impressively organized, on a more abstract concept, bearing the title "Preludes, Études, Variations," continuing monthly into April 2016, with this first concert, here reviewed, at Subculture, NYC, as well as the next on December 1. The rest will continue at Merkin Hall on the Upper West Side. This series is entirely solo, accompanied only by Mr. Griffiths' incisive notes. In addition to 19th- and 20th-century classics of these three musical genres, there are world premieres of new works commissioned by Hobson for the series.
One of the most significant musical events of the autumn was a concert series of a scope and ambition rarely found anywhere, even in New York. The highly respected pianist-conductor Ian Hobson, who was born in England and educated at Cambridge University, the Royal College of Music, and Yale, and has been a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne since 1975, devoted his regular concert cycle to Brahms’ music for solo piano and chamber works for piano, strings, and winds. This took the form of fourteen concerts, all listed above, which spanned September, October, and the first half of November.
Paul Griffiths' most recent novel, let me tell you, is a spare work of engulfing mystery and power, although its technique is highly conceptual: he has set himself the task of telling Ophelia's story from her own point of view, using no more than the 483-word vocabulary Shakespeare allotted her in Hamlet. This is hardly the first time a modern writer has attempted to scatter new seeds in this corner of Shakespeare's garden, but few have approached it with Griffith's fluid imagination and verbal sophistication, a talent he has developed as much from his career as a music critic and historian as in the role of a literary man. Even a naive reader will be captivated by Griffiths' touching portrait of Ophelia, as she grows up in an ensnaring web spun by the habits, desires, and social obligations of her father, her brother, the queen, the old and new kings, and, of course, the Prince. But in this case, she is no victim. With her own native ingenuity and a healthy desire to survive, she finds a way out.