Streaming From Tanglewood: Sing a song of quarantine
LENOX - Straight out of Boston composer Scott Wheeler's self-quarantine came his "Isolation Rag." Filmed in isolation in Tanglewood's Linde Center, the cheery little piece launched the recital series in the "Online Festival" replacing the live music festival. You can't escape the Covid.
Next in the solo recital by violinist Gil Shaham came Chicago composer Max Raimi's "Anger Management." While not an effect of the pandemic, its alternating moments of scrabbling and repose echoed the mood isolation can provoke.
"Great Performers in Recital" is one of six streamed series emanating from Tanglewood this summer. It takes soloists originally scheduled to have appeared with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and features them in a solo recital instead. Soprano Nicole Cabelle is your host for each program in the series.
Shaham, a Tanglewood favorite originally scheduled to have played the Mendelssohn violin concerto, seemed a fitting choice to open things up. As always, his technique was dazzling, his imagination boundless. He also stood up easily to the cameras poking and probing him from several angles in rapid succession.
In one respect, Tanglewood was lucky. Studio E in its Linde Center, which opened only a year ago, provides an ideal performance and recording space for soloists and small ensembles. The sound is rich and clear, the ambiance enhanced by views of the Tanglewood landscape, visible in the background through Linde's panoramic windows.
Audiences for telecast and streamed concerts have come to expect restless cameras to peer at musicians from rapidly shifting angles, often zeroing in on facial grimaces and grins. Though deftly shot, Shaham's recital seemed an extreme example of the genre. Shots remained on the screen for no more than 10 or 15 seconds each. Changes in lighting, both indoors and outdoors, showed that, unlike a live performance, the 46-minute recital consisted of expertly patched-together takes. Seeing was not an aid to believing.
In the concise program, the brief Wheeler and Raimi pieces were followed by two brief movements from William Bolcom's Suite No. 2 for solo violin, Prokofiev's Sonata in D and Bach's Partita No. 3 (BWV 1006).
In a talk, the genial violinist nicely described "Isolation Rag" as a picture of a violinist cheerfully practicing in his home while itching to get out to play a concerto with friends in an orchestra.
Well, after all, the piece was written for him - as were "Anger Management" and the Bolcom suite, all by fellow Americans. Bolcom's two playful excerpts were titled "Dancing in Place" and "Lenny in Spats" - if you can imagine Leonard Bernstein in fogey mode.
The Prokofiev concerto was written for violin students but you had to wonder what kind of student could toss off its flying and muscular passages with Shaham's panache, which indeed made child's play of the challenges. His virtuosity was even more on display in the Bach partita. He rendered the counterpoint lucid, the dance rhythms piquant, the overall effect pure joy.
The opening weekend also brought the debut of "BSO Musicians in Concert," another series newly recorded in Linde. In ordinary times, the program would have been a Friday evening Prelude concert preceding a BSO concert.
As host, soprano Lauren Ambrose, a Tanglewood Music Center graduate, said 40 musicians would be taking part in the series. The inaugural group of seven set a high standard.
Flutist Elizabeth Ostling and pianist Randall Hodgkinson evoked the languid, pastoral charms of Aaron Copland's Duo for their instruments, topping them with a spiky finale. Ostling also offered Tanglewood graduate James Lee III's Brazilian-flavored solo piece "Choro sem tristeza" (lament without sadness).
The passionate surges of Brahms' Quintet in F minor seemed to burst the bonds of form in the beautifully polished performance by violinists Alexander Velinzon and Bracha Malkin, violist Cathy Basrak, cellist Blaise Dejardin and pianist Jonathan Bass. As the piece rose to its climax, you could see twilight settling over the Tanglewood lawn.
In the weekend's other major musical event, the BSO opened a virtual series of its own with a streamed rerun of its Tanglewood opening night concert from 2015. Canadian conductor Jacques Lacombe seemed to have his musical passport in order as he led a star-spangled program. Jamie Bernstein, Lenny's daughter and keeper of the sacred flame, is the exuberant host for this series.
The playing sparked to life in the jazzy opening and closing pieces, John Harbison's foxtrotting, 1920s-infused "Remembering Gatsby" and Duke Ellington's affectionate tour of "Harlem." Otherwise, Kirill Gerstein labored against a somewhat unsettled orchestra as a mean jazz and classical soloist in Gershwin's rambling Piano Concerto in F, and John Douglas Thompson pretty much read Lincoln's stirring words straight off the page without oratorical emphasis as narrator in Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."
Bottom line: Better a virtual Tanglewood than no Tanglewood at all.
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