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.
The Internet and the ever more sophisticated publishing technology it offers have made it possible to provide the best thought and writing we can achieve without having to raise capital for printing and distribution, and all the other expenses involved in a kind of publication, which, I regret to say, is headed towards obsolescence in our particular “niche,” the arts. Many excellent print publications in the arts have had to shut down, and others have tried to survive by opening themselves to commercial interests. Newspapers and weeklies, struggling for survival themselves, have been radically cutting back their staffs in the arts, so that all that is left are quick impressions of a popular, consumeristic nature. We believe above all that the arts are too important for the life of communities and human civilization to be treated as a casual amusement or as a variety of shopping. Even if the latest technology has allowed us to present our wind-powered labors—looking both to the past and to the future—to a substantial audience in a form that, while making the most of multimedia, remains primarily based in text, the costs involved in creating this content are considerable.
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.