Virtual Tanglewood: 'Isaac Stern, Fiddler' and a discovery

Isaac Stern performs the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D at Tanglewood, July 6, 1984. Seiji Ozawa conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The internationally renowned violinist's nearly 50-year association with the BSO and the 100th anniversary of his birth are the focus of the BSO's Virtual Gala Thursday. The free streamed event begins at 8 p.m. through tanglewood.org.

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LENOX — Did they love him at Tanglewood?

Well, in 1986 Isaac Stern set off a near-riot when he brought six well-known friends, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax among them, to play chamber music with him in the old Theater-Concert Hall. A crowd of 5,000 — Tanglewood planned for only 3,000 — descended.

On the hot, sticky Saturday afternoon, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's open rehearsal was just letting out. The Stern worshipers were held up at the Main Gate while the rehearsal-goers streamed through to their cars. Growing impatient, the incoming crowd stormed the gate. Near-chaos ensued. Ticket takers and ushers were overwhelmed in the crush.

The online audience will presumably be better behaved when, beginning 8 p.m. Thursday[JULY 23], the BSO celebrates a nearly 50-year relationship with the celebrated violinist. A "Virtual Gala," originally planned live at Tanglewood, will mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on July 21, 1920. The free streamed program — which can be accessed at tanglewood.org — will feature violinists Vadim Gluzman, Midori and Nancy Zhou in a tribute to Stern's many accomplishments, including rescue and restoration of Carnegie Hall when demolition loomed.

The host will be Ara Guzelimian, former director of Carnegie Hall. And naturally, there will be speeches and archival footage of Stern in performance. His rich tone and unabashed romanticism will sound again.

Stern first appeared with the BSO in 1948. His last appearance was at Tanglewood in a 1997 program with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. He played pieces by Mozart and Dvorak.

The list of accomplishments and honors is endless. Commissions, premieres, medals, honorary degrees, keys to cities; he was frequently busy with service for this or that cause, including presidency of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.

In a remembrance, Carnegie Hall archivist Gino Francesconi recalls that Stern's agent, the legendary Sol Hurok, "complained that when Isaac wasn't on stage, he was on the phone. Conductor George Szell lamented Isaac could have been the greatest violinist after Jascha Heifetz, but he was `wasting his time' on so many worthy causes."

Stern died in 2001 at 81. Carnegie Hall dedicated its 2019-20 season to him. His tombstone, in Gaylordsville, Conn., says simply "Isaac Stern, Fiddler."

Videos released last week in the "Online Festival" included a discovery: a piano, four-hand, recital by the Jussen brothers, Lucas, 26, and Arthur, 23. Originally scheduled live for a Tanglewood debut, the Dutch duo instead recorded a streaming program only three weeks ago in Amsterdam's fabled Concertgebouw.

The effect is uncanny. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, the brothers look and sway so much alike that they can seem two of the same blond person. Two minds also play as one.

Heightening the spectral effect, subdued lighting, with sconces that look like candlelight, illuminates only the pianists, their hands and the keyboard. In the engulfing darkness, an invisible audience breaks out in a whooping, screaming ovation after each piece.

Who are they? Concertgebouw ghosts?

They become visible — dimly — only at the final curtain calls.

The brothers, who switch off between treble and bass, have earned a big reputation in Europe. The playing in three four-hand standards — Mozart's Sonata, K. 381; Schubert's Fantasy, D. 940, and Ravel's "Mother Goose" Suite — shows why. Charm in Mozart, melancholy in Schubert and gossamer in Ravel come from rootedness in each composer's style and character.

The recital closes with a piece written for the duo, the Polish Hanna Kulenty's "VAN " Perpetual motion rat-a-tat-tat suggests a machine gone mad. It comes to a violent stop, leading to a meditation from the world of Beethoven's late sonatas (as in Ludwig "VAN "). Arthur Jussen suggests that though written in 2014, the piece could be a metaphor for the 2020 pandemic and its effect on human existence.

"We didn't think that was possible in this life but maybe it is," he says, reflecting on the music's existential meaning. Beethoven is consolation.

In a Linde Center video, Pinchas Zukerman, once a Stern prot g , plays the violin with an old-fashioned warmth of tone and generosity of spirit that recalls Stern. Cellist Amanda Forsyth, Zukerman's wife, matches him as musical partner.

The centerpiece is Kodaly's Duo, drawing on Hungarian folk traditions. Pizzicatos often underscore the transformed dance rhythms in an astringent 20th-century style. The gripping performance is especially notable for how the piece seems to tell a story of village love, betrayal and tragedy, though there is no actual program.

Two oddities add flavor to the recital: a sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824) and Beethoven's Duo for viola and cello "with two obbligato eyeglasses."

The 10-minute Beethoven trifle is something he tossed off for him to play with his cellist-friend Baron Zmeskall. One theory is that the enigmatic title is a joke referring to the players' spectacles.

Shorter pieces by Gliere and Faure round out the program. Pianist Bryan Wagorn assists. For its part, the BSO contributes an archival video featuring conductor Bernard Haitink's memorable 2013 performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 4.


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