One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).
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.
Here we are, a hundred years later, and so much of Claude Debussy’s music still beguiles with its freshness! As Michael Tilson Thomas led the San Francisco Symphony through an accomplished performance of Jeux last Sunday, I was reminded how much the daily bread of sound in our own lives comes from Debussy’s late style.
Before getting into the program in detail, it’s worth noting that here again the BSO and New York Philharmonic programs overlap. While Levine in the Berg Three Pieces is returning to repertoire with which he has been closely associated for many years—music inspired by the composer of the main work, Gustav Mahler—Gilbert approached the same work as part of his ongoing exploration of the Second Vienna School, which has enriched his programming throughout the year, and, I’m sure, will continue throughout his career.
One can only say that Tanglewood was incredibly lucky in landing James Levine’s distinguished counterpart at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis, to replace him for the annual TMC opera concert performance. No conductor could have managed the performance with a keener appreciation of its drama, the melancholy lyricism of its music, the lucidity of Tchaikovsky’s score, and the energy and bite of its climaxes. Sir Andrew has always shown an extraordinary ability to respond to many sides of complex works, and this past Saturday, relatively fresh from conducting Onegin at the Lyric this spring, he produced a rich and balanced reading of the score as well as astonishing playing from the TMC Orchestra. His insight and musicianship were not the only reasons that this was one of the truly unforgettable nights at Tanglewood—or nights of opera anywhere—but it is fitting to honor this extraordinary conductor and musician who is heard all too seldom on the East Coast.