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.
Three-star chef. Life may not be a box of chocolates, but the Berlin Philharmonic is, and during their first visit to Royal Albert Hall this Proms season, Sir Simon Rattle made gestures that were like plucking nougatine from a dazzling array of sweets. He beams as he conducts, looking seraphic in a nimbus of snow white hair, and why not? At his disposal is an instrument of unparalleled virtuosity, and he sometimes puts his hands down at his side, gazing in rapt appreciation. If his interpretation should falter, the orchestra will carry the music along as if on a flying carpet. I can imagine someone tiring of London without tiring of life. No one who loves music could tire of the Berliners.
By opening the Berlin Philharmonic’s three-concert series at Carnegie Hall with Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms’ G minor Piano Quartet Sir Simon Rattle made a definite statement about what was to come and how we should listen to it, but just what this meant was not clear until we heard the performance. Since the arrangement has found a place in the repertory, conductors have succumbed all too easily to the temptation to take advantage of its powers as a crowd-pleaser, but it is far more than that, as Rattle and the BPO brilliantly demonstrated. Schoenberg wrote it as an illustration of his thesis that Brahms, regarded widely as a conservative composer in the early twentieth century, was in fact a modernist, but in doing this Schoenberg accomplished something devilishly clever, as this performance made clear…
It may seem like bad manners to welcome the Berlin Philharmonic to New York by discussing a film which deals with the darkest period in its history, but I have no trouble pointing out that its creator’s neutral position leads to a fair, even sympathetic treatment of the orchestra and the survivors who tell the story through their personal experiences and perspectives. The humanity and culture of these gentlemen shine through, and through the political murk, the viewer can develop a vivid sense of what made this orchestra and the musicians in it unique. Enrique Sánchez Lansch’s Das Reichsorchester is entirely the product of a contemporary German mentality, reflecting the desire of a later generation to understand the many gradations of complicity and innocence, courage and fear, their grandparents could grasp as choices in a political system which left them few.