Culture Magazine

Concert Review: He's Only Just Begun

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Berlioz, George Benjamin and Ravel with the BSO at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: He's Only Just Begun

Hector Berlioz (center) and his muse Harriet Smithson as depicted on the poster for
the 1942 French film Symphonie-fantastique.

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra concluded their three-concert stand at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night with a concert featuring the New York premiere of a major work by George Benjamin, flanked by the French music of Maurice Ravel and Hector Berlioz. Although this concert used smaller orchestral forces than Tuesday's all-out assault, this was by far the most expansive and ambitious of the three subscription programs that they had chosen to import from their 2016-17 offerings at their Huntington Avenue home.
The evening opened with the four orchestrated movements of Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin, the Swiss composer's tribute to departed friends and the artistry of the French baroque master François Couperin. Originally written as six movements for piano, this version was later orchestrated by Ravel himself. It is an orchestral favorite of some conductors, albeit one that requires clockwork precision and close attention to detail from the players. Mr. Nelsons drew light, precise sounds from his wind players, putting a zoom focus on the fine fabric of Ravel's silky orchestrations.
George Benjamin's star has risen to the constellation of important contemporary composers, gaining in magnitude with the 2015 New York premiere of his opera Written on Skin at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Here, the BSO was joined by countertenor Bejun Mehta and an eight-part ensemble of female sopranos for Dream of the Song, the work which follows that opera in the Englishman's catalog. Mr. Mehta, who rose to fame singing Handel at the New York City Opera, still has a bright, slightly dry timbre, suited for Mr. Benjamin's athletic vocal writing.
These songs are settings of poetry in English and Spanish, translations of works by the medieval poets Samuel HaNagid and Solomon Ibn Gabirol. Jews living under the Muslim government of medieval Spain, their poetry searches and soars, buoyed by Mr, Mehta's stratospheric instrument. The most memorable part of this work, however was the antiphon created between Mr. Mehta, singing English texts and the eight sopranos singing against him in Spanish. This was profound and eerie, a crossing of cultures nearly a millennium after these original texts were written. This is an unforgettable work that bears further hearing.
"Unforgettable" is the word that Hector Berlioz may well have used to describe Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress whose appearance as Ophelia in an 1827 production of Hamlet touched the the composer's heart. He wooed her (though she spoke no French and he, less English) and upon being rejected, placed his would-be inamorata at the center of his first great compositional success:the Symphonie-fantastique. This work, with its five movements and elaborate, written program detailing the "artist" and his ever more nightmarish obsession with his lost love broke new ground, forever blurring the line between tone poem and formal symphony i na way that had never been done before. Berlioz was just 26. Later, he married Ms. Smithson, although it didn't last.
In this performance Mr. Nelsons conducted this great work with the ferocity and boldness of a young man who has only just started to accomplish great things. The mighty first movement, which moves from tentative whimpers in the violins to a surging Allegro had the right mix of formality and madness, as did the following dance movement. The great slow third movement, with its distant, calling shepherd's pipes (a device later borrowed by Wagner for the third act of Tristan) was atmospheric, slowed to almost a crawl as time seemed to stop for the lovestruck hero.
The symphony accelerated again, as the orchestra launched into the muffled, shuffling drumbeat of the March to the Scaffold. The first of two phantasmagoric movements was a successful coup d'orchestre, with roaring, snarling brass and taut lockstep playing from the strings. Then Mr. Nelsons released the metaphorical hounds with the finale the Dream of a Sabbath Night with its chivvying, phantasmagorical chords in the strings, eerie tolling bells and at its height, the descending Dies Irae theme roared out in the solo tuba. What can sound cheesy in the wrong hands was here both thrilling and genuinely beautiful, as the orchestra, happy with its new chief whirled to a demonic close.

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Through the Eyes of My Expat Child! Lessons Learned.

    Through Eyes Expat Child! Lessons Learned.

    People keep saying to me, “Oh your little girl must be loving the normality of being back home in Australia.” I smile, nodding meekly, not wanting to seem... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Mint Mocha Musings
  • Taking Stock – April 2017

    Taking Stock April 2017

    Another Month has come and gone!  We are travelling through 2017 far too quickly!   As much as I would love time to stand still for a moment – it can’t, and it... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Mischieviousmum
  • Soda Sales at Deepest Valley Since 1985

    Soda Sales Deepest Valley Since 1985

    US soda sales are at the lowest since 1985. And they're not likely to pick up soon, as reports about the potentially brain-damaging properties of sugary drinks... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Dietdoctor
  • Cartoon Guide to Biodiversity Loss XLI

    Cartoon Guide Biodiversity Loss

    Number 41 of my semi-regular instalment of biodiversity cartoons, and the first for 2017. See full stock of previous ‘Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss’... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Bradshaw
  • Snow in April

    Snow April

    Seriously what is going on with the weather? I woke up yesterday morning looked out the window and was greeted by beautiful blue skies, brilliant I though to... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Ashley Crombet-Beolens
  • 10 Reasons to Front-toss

    Reasons Front-toss

    Sitting or standing, underhand or overhand, front-toss is tough to beat.There are several ways to practice hitting. Live BP and hitting off a tee are popular... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Meachrm
  • Crooked Federal Judge R. David Proctor, with His Deep-seated Ties to Perjurious...

    Crooked Federal Judge David Proctor, with Deep-seated Ties Perjurious Trump Jeff Sessions, Proves Apple Fall from Tree

    Judge R. David Proctor (center), with family members whohave benefited from ties to corrupt Trump AG Jeff Sessions(From many ways can a... Read more

    The 26 April 2017 by   Rogershuler