July 3, 2009 performance reviewed by Dave Conlin Read
Music Director James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra opened their 2009 Tanglewood season with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Opus 74, “Pathétique,” which the composer conducted the first performance of in St. Petersburg nine days before his death, in 1893.
Writing that “The ultimate essence of the plan of the symphony is LIFE,” Tchaikovsky also said that it “…will be a riddle for everyone. Let them try and solve it.”
Its performance proved no puzzle for Maestro Levine and the BSO, who enthralled the Gala Opening Night audience, giving them a sensory substance that would allow them to contemplate the vagaries of life or to slip into a thought-free space and thrill to the variety of beautifully played music.
The opening passage, slow and quiet and vague, conjured an image of the months that have passed since the last Tanglewood season, but just as that idea forms, the symphony has gotten louder and melodic and the smart thing seems to be to quit thinking and find escape in the excellence of the B.S.O..
Every section of the orchestra gets to shine in the Pathetique, the brass and woodwinds have brief, colorful, expressive moments that frame the piece, there are a few cymbal crashes that startle, and long pulsing sections where the timpani evokes a sense of menace or foreboding.
The violins were the first among equals, though, and we were seated close enough to see the expressiveness with which Maestro Levine communicated with concertmaster Malcolm Lowe. He looked to be ravishing attention on the strings, showing unbridled emotion, fervently bowing the air and pantomiming the melody with his mouth.
Levine conducts seated in a high chair that swivels – in fact, it is in constant motion until the last dying moment of the symphony. Unseen to most is the frenetic footwork that sort of mirrors all the movement of his arms and hands. The emotion displayed and energy spent in just this little fraction of Levine’s Tanglewood workload is remarkable. Besides evincing the requisite ethereal artistry of his position, this season-opener showed also that the rotund maestro is fit as a fiddle.
The opening night program continued after intermission with the Tchaikovski Piano Concerto No. 1, with pianist Yefim Bronfman. Violinist Christian Tetzlaff will join Maestro Levine on July 5 for the Brahms Violin Concerto on a program that includes Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
Tetzlaff next will give back-to-back performances of Beethoven’s complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano in Ozawa Hall, with Program 1, Sonatas 1-4, on July 5; Program 2, Sonatas 5-7, on July 7; and Program 3, Sonatas 8-10, on July 9.
The Fourth of July concert at Tanglewood will feature Canadian singer and pianist Diana Krall, the two-time Grammy winner who last was seen here when she made a surprise appearance during husband Elvis Costello’s stint on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz broadcast during the 2007 Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Ms. Krall also headlined the 2004 Fourth of July concert at Tanglewood.
- Tanglewood schedule 2009 season