LENOX — The ode to joy at Tanglewood yesterday afternoon wasn't just Beethoven's. It must also have been the Boston Symphony Orchestra's as its well-liked music director, Andris Nelsons, announced that he would be at Tanglewood four weeks next summer.
Nelsons prefaced his closing-day performance of the Beethoven Ninth with a heartfelt talk from the stage commending the slow movement's message of calm and peace. Almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that he would be in residence here for two weeks each at the start and close of the 2017 season.
The commitment represents one more week than Nelsons put in this summer. Originally scheduled for two weeks, he was able to stay on for the Ninth as a result of his walkout at the Bayreuth Festival and Christoph von Dohnanyi's cancellation as the scheduled conductor.
On an Instagram-perfect summer day with a crowd of something like 12,000 filling the lawn and Shed, Nelsons' Ninth was unconventional, to say the least – more like a slow lava flow than a lightning bolt.
Tempos were deliberate, allowing for a rewarding clarity of sound but at some loss in momentum. The effect in the first two movements was to throw the adagio's otherworldly variations, which were beautifully shaped, into heightened relief. The calm was what Nelsons had said it would be.
The massive Tanglewood Festival Chorus — it appeared close to 200 strong — dominated the "Ode to Joy" movement. It sang robustly and jubilantly, at times eclipsing the well-chosen quartet of soloists (soprano Rachel Willis-Sorenson, mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose, tenor Joseph Kaiser and bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer). The movement never quite got off the ground.
To fill out the program, BSO trumpeter Thomas Rolfs and English hornist Robert Sheena evoked a 2 a.m. cityscape — like in a Hopper drawing – as eloquent soloists in Aaron Copland's "Quiet City."
Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams make up an all-star Tanglewood lineup, and the BSO made a Tanglewood on Parade of them Saturday night.
The program was designed for popular appeal, with Ma as the chief attraction. In the end, conductor Michael Stern seemed the most interesting part of the evening. He lit up the BSO, whether accompanying Ma or going to the movies with Bernstein.
Ma must have played Haydn's Cello Concerto in C dozens of times, probably never the same way twice. To a large audience's delight Saturday, he darted freely here and there, golden-toned, rushing ahead, pulling back, as if playing tag with himself. He turned on lyrical warmth in the adagio.
After intermission, Ma returned in three pieces by Williams, all of which he had premiered. "Heartwood," a tree-inspired meditation for cello and orchestra, was burnished to a fine glow. "Rosewood" and "Pickin,'" both solo pieces, harked back to the African-American experience in the American South.
Stern, the director of the Kansas City Symphony, seemed a natural fit in this repertoire. The BSO delivered full measure of violence and sentiment in Bernstein's "On the Waterfront" suite. For a last word on trees, Stern plunged the willing orchestra into the lush excesses of Respighi's "Pines of Rome." To a thunder of brasses, drums and organ, the ghosts of the Roman Legion marched the Appian Way.