Farewell to Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra

Monday August 20, 2012

LENOX -- The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra concluded its season Sunday afternoon by recalling one of Serge Koussevitzky's great legacies: the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra.

What a way to go. With Gil Shaham as soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto before intermission, energy and emotion -- the complex of sadness and happiness that great music can evoke -- seethed from the stage of the Koussevitzky Shed all afternoon. It was a thrill to be there.

Bartok, who had fled Hungary because of the Nazis, was sick, unhappy and unrecognized in the United States in 1943 when Koussevitzky commissioned him to write an orchestral work. Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave the premiere in 1944. A performance like Sunday's makes you realize how prescient the Tanglewood founder was and what a masterpiece Bartok produced.


Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, looking frail at 78 but with his conducting powers undimmed, took all the time he needed to search out the music's wonders and intricacies. The student orchestra climaxed a brilliant summer with playing of remarkable breadth and depth.

Like Bartok's life after Koussevitzky's gift, the work progressed from brooding to joyous release. Most remarkable of all, it seemed, was the foreboding and even terror in the central elegy. World as well as personal tragedy stalked these shrouded sounds.

The serenity of the Beethoven Violin Concerto is at an opposite pole from such fears. The performance combined the vigor of youth with the mellowness of maturity, Shaham, at 41, embodying both. He found depths of expression in even the quiet passages where Beethoven draws a breath for bigger things to come.


Many details in the solo part were freshly imagined -- most strikingly, Shaham's cadenzas, which drew on the standard Kreisler cadenzas as well as Beethoven's in his piano version of the work. As in Bartok, there was time to savor both broad lines and inner workings. The beautifully realized accompaniment under Frühbeck allowed a natural ebb and flow with the soloist. The music emerged in all its life-affirming richness.

And so, farewell. Every year, it's sad to think that these 100 young musicians will scatter, never to come together again. They made the concert a tribute to Koussevitzky's vision not only in recognizing Bartok but also in founding the Tanglewood academy.

Another Koussevitzky memento led off the BSO program Friday night.

The suite from Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" ballet recalled the composer who was Koussevitzky's partner in founding the TMC and stayed on for 25 years -- long after Koussevitzky was dead -- in a variety of leadership roles.


The mix-and-match program by a small orchestra was a pretty drab affair. It brought back conductor Bramwell Tovey, who led last summer's impressive "Porgy and Bess," but now presided over some mix-and-match performances.

"Appalachian Spring," which tells a story of Shakers, was never about the Appalachians, and it didn't have much spring in as tempos dragged and the playing on the clammy, post-storm night turned thick and unsettled.

The young (born 1984) German violinist Augustin Hadelich -- one in a seemingly endless procession of young virtuoso violinists trooping across stages these days -- made his BSO debut in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto.

In the postromantic glow of the first two movements, Hadelich's sweetly singing, intimately scaled performance seemed hardly a match for the heaving orchestral part, but the perpetual-motion finale gave him a chance to show his virtuoso credentials. He followed it with Paganini's 24th Caprice in as a showpiece solo encore.

Tovey, who is based in Vancouver, brought a steady but unenlivening hand to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. From time to time flames would break out, only to succumb again to inertia.


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