Writing here recently about last season at the Boston Symphony, I had recourse more than once to the phrase “just notes going by” in response to Andris-Nelsons-led performances that I did not like (I did praise a number of performances as well). I am happy to say that I think no one would say “just notes going by” about the recent, September 28th concert which opened the orchestra’s subscription series for 2017-2018. First, Nelsons and the orchestra and soloist Paul Lewis presented a definite view of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G-major, Opus 58; they had something to say with it. And the large Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”) which followed, seemed to come into its own and express itself as fully as one could imagine.
Off-season musical life is not as thin in the Hudson Valley as it is in the Berkshires, but, whatever the general situation, the Concerts at Camphill Ghent, founded and directed by pianist Gili Melamed-Lev, stand out for their exceptional quality, one month after another. As I have mentioned elsewhere, these concerts, which usually sell out weeks before the concert date, take place in the intimate performing arts hall of Camphill Ghent, a residential community for elders in Chatham, New York. This particular article will offer a preview of the upcoming March concert, which is actually based on an abbreviated version of the program the Lev-Evans Duo played at a house concert in Stockbridge last month, and reviews of two previous concerts at Camphill Ghent.
A relatively new chamber music series in our area, The Concerts at Camphill Ghent, extending through the rather sparse autumn through spring months, has just recently come to my attention, and it looks well worth a season subscription. Every concert is compelling, and they all fit together as a whole. Clearly some strong consideration has gone into the selection of both the music and the musicians. The series was founded and is managed by a musician, the outstanding pianist, Gili Melamed-Lev, who oversees the programming and participates extensively herself. This is by no means exceptional in itself, but the particular stamp she has put on it stands out.
Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra started the new year well with two programs under the direction of guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, who hails now from Cologne and is very active in Europe, much sought after. Conducting without baton, vigorous and engaged, Roth holds the players’ attention and gets what he wants. Orchestra and audience alike feel caught up in an unusually tense and purposeful address to the music at hand.
Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 131 makes Horatios of us all. We stand by, we listen to prophetic greatness, we try to respond, but it eludes us. Hamlet tells us there are more things he could say if he had more time. Doesn’t this sound like the Quartet? In the midst of sublimity, Beethoven finds humor. And most Hamlet-like of all, the serious and the risible are jam-packed together, with no recovery time for the listener. The time is short. The Mirò Quartet made this doubly so. The performance had an irresistible forward motion. Even the great set of variations were fleet of foot somehow. Every time I hear this piece I am bewildered. They made it clearer. Partly it was a relentless energy, but mostly it was their ability to make even what silence there is in the piece forward leaning.
The perfect word to describe Andris Nelsons’ conducting is “exciting.” He elicits spectacular playing from the Boston Symphony and knows how to mold the sound of the orchestra to his taste. The strings now sound rich, deep, and solid rather than airy, transparent and elegant, as was their traditional, French–flavored style. This works well in a German-Russian program; I am curious to hear what they (Nelsons and the orchestra) will do with canonical French material such as the orchestral works of Ravel.