Water is both a milieu and a bane at TMCO concert

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By Andrew L. Pincus

Special to the Eagle

LENOX >> Leviathan, the biblical monster of the deep, sings in lonely French horn tones in Osvaldo Golijov's "Sign of the Leviathan." Around him lap gentle waves made by a string orchestra. Moby-Dick he isn't.

"Sign of the Leviathan," a Tanglewood Music Center 75th-anniversary commission, received its world premiere Monday night by the TMC Orchestra. Golijov, a star TMC composition graduate, says his monster, like its namesake in the Book of Job, is not just magnificent, but endures "solitude and longing."

In the program note, Golijov writes that he started out to compose a typical musical birthday card but found himself in deeper waters, so to speak. The 12-minute whale music that emerged, partly from another piece he was working on, is for a string orchestra in two opposed groups, against which the solo horn calls a lament as if from afar.

Water was not only a milieu but also, in the premiere, a bane. Boston Symphony principal hornist James Sommerville, for whom the piece was written, is hornist enough to handle the technical hurdles the part put him through, but it left him no chance to clear his instrument of the moisture that condensed inside on the humid night. The musical message, though clear enough, was clouded by intonation problems. Faculty conductor Stefan Asbury led an otherwise assured performance.

Golijov writes approachable music but his writing here, as waves ebbed and flowed, seemed a bit thin in content, as if he had hold of a good thing and didn't quite know what to do with it. One of his great successes, the opera "Ainadamar," which had it premiere at the TMC, will be recalled on Aug. 2 when current students perform excerpts from it and other notable TMC operatic firsts.

Monday's program made other TMC connections. Alumnus Ludovic Morlot returned to introduce students to German and French styles in Wagner's Act I Prelude to "Parsifal" and Debussy's "Images." Current student Ruth Reinhardt conducted "Concert Music" for strings and brass by Paul Hindemith, a 1940 composition teacher.

In the close confines of Ozawa Hall, Morlot went for a full, richly detailed sound. The ethereal Wagner prelude, though played sensitively, came across as a little weighty. But in the Debussy suite, Morlot and the players went beyond sensuous surfaces to bring out the colors, swirl, depth and, finally, ecstasy of the evocations of dance and festival.

Hindemith's dense, polyphonic work — essentially a battle between strings and brass — likewise benefited from Reinhardt's assured leadership and the orchestra's vivid, lively assent.


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