I'm often struck, when I attend concerts, with how much it matters what we see happening onstage. Ears aren't everything. And sometimes they are not enough. This is doubly true if an audience is presented with the sort of modern music which trades in humor, sly remarks, and attitude, like the Lutosławski Cello Concerto, which received its San Francisco premiere this week nearly fifty years after it was composed. I'm happy to report the concerto was a triumph worth the wait, but its success with our audience was to a large degree determined by the mini-skit taking place onstage. Fortunately, Christian Reif and Johannes Moser are natural comedians, sufficiently so to dispel any notions that Germans are too uptight to be funny! And our close sight lines in Davies Hall, where it is easy to witness a performer's face, surely played a part in what almost amounted to a Saturday Night Live routine.
Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra, led by Sir Antonio Pappano, with guest soloist Martha Argerich, visited Symphony Hall on Sunday, October 22nd, performing at the rather unusual hour of 5 p.m. Going into the concert, I was overtaken by the suggestion of my title for this review. Thinking of Lorca and Hemingway, who between them immortalized the phrase “Five in the Afternoon,” in connection with bullfighting, I wondered if we concert goers were in for a strong flavor of doom, transcended through ritual and magnificence. No such thing. The concert was all beauty and vitality, though certainly with magnificence about it. This stunning event was the best orchestral concert of the fall in Boston.
Here is really lovely Dvořák: fresh and natural, gorgeously recorded—and with something new to say. That’s rare for the symphony, which has been captured for presumed immortality by every orchestra on earth—and dutifully miked from nearly every row in every concert house. There’s a New World for every taste in approach and sonic perspective.
There is nothing more cozy and comfortable in the symphonic canon than the harmless narcissism of Strauss’s “domestic” symphony, originally titled “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family.” Just how tasteful it all is has been a subject of debate ever since 1903, of course. As Peter Ustinov famously said of the composer: “I knew I wouldn’t like his wallpaper.” As it turned out, he didn’t.
Nowadays, visiting orchestras often play two or three concerts in New York, and, best of all, these are sometimes "curated" into themed series, like the VPO's under Boulez and Barenboim a few years ago. This year, Carnegie Hall is presenting an exceptionally ambitious event, Vienna, City of Dreams, which goes beyond the Vienna Philharmonic's unprecedented seven-concert series of symphonic and operatic works, and includes chamber music concerts, contemporary music, symposia, film screenings, and a few events including the visual arts, including Vienna Complex, a contemporary group exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which has organized most of the events outside Carnegie Hall itself, although no significant exhibitions of the art of the periods represented by the concerts at Carnegie Hall. (The other piece of Vienna in New York, the Neue Galerie, is offering nothing but limited free tours for ticket holders and discounts in their gift shop.) Theater and literature went virtually unrepresented. (A Viennese theater festival, including the Burgtheater, would have been welcome—magnificent, even.) A language barrier in our day of ubiquitous supertitles?
This year will, as everyone hopes, be the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s last season without a music director — at least for another five years. Andris Nelsons has been signed up, and although he’s conducting only two BSO subscription programs this entire year, he’ll be really and officially taking charge next fall. His photo is already on the cover of the BSO program book, with the title “Music Director Designate.”
Hats off, ladies and Gentlemen! A conductor! And a great symphony! Vasily Petrenko's recent electrifying week with the San Francisco Symphony reminds the listener that Gustavo Dudamel is not the sole "conducting animal" to be found on the musical circuit these days. Esa-Pekka Salonen coined the term a while back, with the impassioned Venezuelan in mind. And indeed, Dudamel is the sort of refreshing performer who has the winds jumping to their feet like jazz musicians and bass players twirling their instruments. He is all about emotion as vitality. But physically, apart from the energy with which he beats time, his manner is unremarkable. The fascination of Petrenko, by contrast, is his ability to reflect every quivering moment of the music somewhere on his face or body, as though he were a disembodied hologram. We joke about people who are "double-jointed." But Vasily Petrenko might as well be quadruple-sprung and then some...this is a man who'd have no trouble tapping three heads, rubbing five tummies and signalling with numerous eyebrows at the same time!
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller's commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? - May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I've settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.