TMC orchestra performances tend to be somewhat haphazard assortments of repertory, mostly of high quality, but diverse rather than coherent as programs. Monday night’s concert was different: there were resonances among the works that indicated a triangle of influences and artistic interests with the apex being in the music of British composer Thomas Adès, who conducted half of the program.
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.
I don’t think I have heard the Boston Symphony sound this full and deep since Koussevitzky. This CD inaugurates Andris Nelsons’ era at the helm of the BSO and signals a reinforcement of the orchestra’s considerable strengths in the more brooding side of the continental repertory.
Music making, one supposes wryly, can sometimes be a battle of influences. In this instance, simply put, how does one reconcile late romantic Sibelius with the compositional methods of Pierre Boulez? The very thought might give one chills….
I was intrigued to hear IRCAM’s Susanna Mälkki recently, and not simply to touch base with the new generation of influential women at the podium. I wanted to experience how her musical approach would walk the line between cerebral pointillism of the Boulezian sort and the kind of broad Barbirollian phrasing favored by Leif Segerstam, with whom she studied. Mälkki was one of the principal cellists in the Gothenburg Symphony — for Sibelius lovers a considerable entry on the romantic side of the ledger — but I find myself disappointed to say that in this instance the French modernists appear to have won most of the battles of influence.
The numerous offerings that make up the comprehensive 22nd annual Bard Music Festival, “Sibelius and His World,” take place during SummerScape’s two final weekends: August 12- 14 and August 19-21. Through the prism of Sibelius’s life and career, this year’s festival will explore the music of Scandinavia and examine the challenges faced by those who continued working within a tonal framework after the revolutions of musical modernism. Sibelius’s orchestral mastery was exceptional; his compositional output includes one of the most revered and beloved symphonic cycles since Beethoven’s and the most frequently recorded violin concerto of the 20th century, besides such favorites as Finlandia, Valse triste, and Tapiola.
Mark Volpe and his crew deserve a medal for putting together a fine group of replacements for James Levine’s dates in only a few months. Charles Dutoit and Hans Graf are well known to Boston audiences, less so Emmanuel Krivine, and John Storgårds is a total newcomer. His background is especially interesting, given his predilection for mixing up the basic repertory with little known symphonic works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, Walton, Korngold and Nino Rota, as well as contemporary compositions, like international premiere performances of Rautavaara’s new cello concerto with Truls Mørk and the same composer’s new percussion concerto with Colin Currie, Saariaho’s new clarinet concerto with Kari Kriikku, Gruber’s “Busking” with Håkan Hardenberger and a new Concerto for Orchestra by Rolf Wallin. Before studying to become a conductor John Storgårds was concert master of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra during Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tenure, and he continues to perform as a virtuoso violin soloist, a fact that has special relevance to his work in the Sibelius Violin Concerto at Tanglewood. He is currently Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, and makes frequent guest appearance with major orchestras of Scandinavia, the UK, and Germany, as well as Australia, Japan, and so far in the US, the Cincinnati Orchestra, where he was immediately invited back. I shouldn’t be surprised if that happened in Boston as well. John Storgårds is a conductor of authority and a profound knowledge of the scores he conducted. In a way, it’s too bad that we didn’t get a chance to hear him in one of his trademark mixed programs, but in this one Storgård had a chance to show his personal sympathy for the music of his national composer and his own highly individual way of projecting it through an orchestra, every bit as rugged and uncompromising as the music itself.
Benchmarks for success may sometimes change. But vanity itself never changes. Indeed, tact appears to be the ancient art invented to deal with it. And in the concert world, as elsewhere, self-satisfaction frequently begins with a name. These days, sometimes just one.
Scandinavia’s rich cultural heritage, and the question of artistic conservatism in the modernist age, will be explored at the eighth annual Bard SummerScape festival, which once again features a sumptuous tapestry of music, opera, theater, dance, film, and cabaret, keyed to the theme of the 22nd annual Bard Music Festival. Presented in the striking Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts and other venues on Bard College’s bucolic Hudson River campus, the seven-week festival opens on July 7 with the first of four performances by Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company, and closes on August 21 with a party in Bard’s beloved Spiegeltent, which returns for the full seven weeks. This year’s Bard Music Festival explores Sibelius and His World, and some of the great Finnish symphonist’s most fascinating contemporaries provide other SummerScape highlights, including New York’s first fully-staged production of Richard Strauss’s 1940 opera Die Liebe der Danae; Noël Coward’s chamber opera, Bitter Sweet (1929); Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama The Wild Duck (1884); and a film festival, “Before and After Bergman: The Best of Nordic Film.”