LENOX -- For two generations of Tanglewood Music Center students, Harry Shapiro was orchestra manager, coach, mentor and behind-the-scenes support. Before that, he played horn in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 39 years. Also a general factotum in the Boston music scene, he died June 28 at age 100.
On Sunday night, the TMC Orchestra dedicated its opening concert to the memory of this colorful, sometimes salty figure.
In a talk from the stage, chief conductor Stefan Asbury, who is English, recalled Shapiro’s advice to him when he was a student in 1990. Drop the talk of crotchets and quavers (English for quarter notes and eighth notes) with the orchestra, Shapiro said.
He then kidded: Even if you talk American, they won’t understand you anyway.
Shapiro would have been proud of the Asbury-led performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony that climaxed Sunday’s concert, just as he was proud of all the student orchestra’s work. It happens every year: Ninety or so of the best student instrumentalists from around the world come to Tanglewood and, after only two weeks together, blow off the roof with a performance of professional quality.
The Fourth, like other Bruckner symphonies, is long. It wanders in swells, retracings, tremolos, horn calls, musings, organ sonorities and thundering climaxes. To keep it from sounding even longer, the wise conductor will keep the textures clear and the lines taut even while he and the players wander with the composer and revel in molten, brazen towers of sound.
Asbury was that conductor, and the TMCO was that orchestra. The players were capable of expectant hushes and peasant airs as well as massed Wagnerian glory. The final climaxes in each movement were logically prepared -- earned, that is -- rather than put on as shows of glory.
It was a great night for the brass section, with its complement of Wagner tubas. It was a great night for all.
In Asbury’s talk, he compared the Austrian Bruckner to the German Hindemith as teacher-composers and masters of counterpoint. So, logically or illogically, he chose Hindemith’s "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber" to open the program.
It’s a fun piece, especially when the "Turandot" movement goes crazy in a colossal fugue (counterpoint). Conducting fellow Karina Canellakis led a high-voltage performance.