By Dave Read (August 28, 2022 concert) – The Tanglewood portion of the Boston Symphony Orchestra‘s 141st season concluded with a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9 in D minor, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
Beethoven’s great work has been on the season-closing program at Tanglewood for a quarter century; thus, a returning audience has the opportunity to enjoy it to the fullest, because there is almost always a guest conductor on the podium. (BSO music directors depart for gigs overseas three or four weeks into summer) No less an eminence than Mstislav Rostropovich both conducted and played cello in 1998, when I first attended.
Maestro Thomas arrived at the Tanglewood Music Center as a conducting student in 1968, became the orchestra’s assistant conductor for a year, and then associate conductor until 1973, when Seiji Ozawa began his long reign atop the BSO. In 1987, Thomas established the New World Symphony, regarded as a replication of the Tanglewood Music Center.
Today’s program opened with Psalm 90, by Charles Ives, the choral piece he considered his valedictory work. And so a series of organ chords are the first sounds of a Tanglewood program, an event as rare as hen’s teeth!
And the Tanglewood Festival Chorus gets into the act long before they would have otherwise. Their still, soundless, seated presence above and behind the orchestra during the first forty-five minutes of the Ninth, is a visible sacrifice to art.
When it wills, nature adorns itself most felicitously – every harshness met with a subtlety, roars answered with whispers, searing crescendos come to rest on beds of rhythm. Buffeted, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, by the madness of old world politics, Beethoven found balance with a pilgrimage into music, into the organization of sound, that element of nature that inspires the liberation of the spirit, and rails against its regimentation.
Few items across the world of art are so universally regarded as epitomes as is Beethoven’s Ninth, nor are many artists as beloved as he is. The tiny bit of time spent in rapt attention can be as wise and beneficial a purchase as any other made that season.
Instead of more words about a thing that is to be heard, received, felt – rather than described, here is a look at my program, with simultaneous notes meant to remind me what to write about. But, despite the look of frenzy, never have I felt more calm and peaceful at a concert – or anywhere.
If brain cancer renders this performance Michael Tilson Thomas’ valediction, then may it be revealed that Beethoven himself was in the wings, to spur the musicians on to the performance of their lives.