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August 2012

July 2012

Tanglewood 2012: Boston Symphony Orchestra with Emanuel Ax

Charles Dutoit and Emanuel Ax at Tanglewood on 7.29.12 (Hilary Scott) (Photo: Hilary Scott/BSO)

My weekend at Tanglewood wrapped up Sunday afternoon with yet another performance by the BSO, their third different program in three days (which may be unusual elsewhere, but is the standard here.) As on Saturday night, Charles Dutoit was on the podium, kicking things off with Beethoven's 3rd piano concerto, played with finesse and emotion by Tanglewood regular (and part-time Berkshires resident) Emanuel Ax. After intermission, the BSO ripped through a performance of Tchiakovsky's 5th symphony: a bombastic work full of orchestral fireworks that literally lit up the previously-grey skies outside the Shed. 

There's lots more coming up at Tanglewood this season, including the annual Tanglewood on Parade concert (Aug. 7), the Festival of Contemporary Music (Aug. 9-13),and a gala concert celebrating John Williams' 80th birthday (Aug. 18.) I might make it back myself before the summer's out, but regardless, it's good to see the old girl still keeping up her appearance 75 years on. See you again soon.

Charles Dutoit leads the BSO on 7.29.12 at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott) (Photo: Hilary Scott)

Tanglewood 2012: Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust

Charles Dutoit led the BSO, TFC, and soloists in La Damnation de Faust on Saturday night (Hilary Scott)(Photo: Hilary Scott/BSO)

Continuing the great tradition of operatic performance at Tanglewood, Charles Dutoit led the Boston Symphony Orchstra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, PALS Children's Chorus, and soloists in a performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust on Saturday night in the Shed: a mammoth undertaking by any measure. Performed without intermission, Berlioz' "dramatic legend" lasted some 2 1/2 hours, encapsulating Goethe's entire epic: from his desperate struggle to obtain youth and happiness, to his eventual end in the bowels of hell. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham stole the show as Marguerite, with strong support from Paul Groves (Faust), Sir Willard White (Mephistopheles), and Christopher Feigum (Brander). 

Charles Dutoit led the BSO, TFC, and soloists in La Damnation de Faust on Saturday night (Hilary Scott)2 (Photo: Hilary Scott)

Tanglewood 2012: Boston Symphony Orchestra with Nelson Freire

Boston Symphony Orchestra, TanglewoodOn a crisp, clear Friday in the Berkshires, the place to be last night was Tanglewood where, after a picnic dinner out back of Highwood, my friend Kit and I took our seats in the Shed for the annual Koussevitsky Memorial Concert by the Boston Symphony. Performing with them was the Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, who wowed me last year when I saw him play Beethoven's 4th concerto with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. Here, he once again displayed his quiet mastery at the keyboard, starting with an understated performance of Mozart's 20th concerto in D minor, keeping his cadenzas and his gestures clipped and articulate. (Freire plays Mozart's 20th again next week as part of the opening concert for the Mostly Mozart Festival.) 

Freire followed with a performance of his fellow Brazilian Villa-Lobos' "Momoprecoce," a fantasy for piano and orchestra that was new to almost everyone in the Shed, including the BSO. Led by BSO assistant conductor Marcelo Lehninger (also a Brazilian, making his Tanglewood debut), the three conjoined movements were at turnes exotic and dancey, propelled by trumpets, flute, and a huge percussion section including everything from maracas to bass drums.

The concert ended with Mussorgsky/Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition: a symphonic staple, both here and elsewhere. Lehninger, who's 31, wasn't perfect, showing a fair bit of awkwardness during some of the slower Pictures. But, he more than made up for it with the bigger, showier movements, shaking his sweat-matted hair and snapping his baton around like that other South American conductor. After the grand, deafening roar of The Great Gate of Kiev, the audience exploded in cheers, with everyone rising to their feet to applaud the young conductor. 

After all, even if Lehninger's hands weren't always in the right place, his heart certainly was. Stay tuned: this guy might just end up becoming Jimmy's replacement.

Marcelo Lehninger and the Boston Symphony OrchestraMore pics below and on the photo page.

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Lincoln Center Festival: Feng Yi Ting

by Angela Sutton

Feng Yi Teng Lincoln Center Festival
Photo: Cong Yan / China Daily

The Lincoln Center Festival provided a respite from a steamy, stormy, July Thursday with a trip to ancient China in Guo Wenjing's Feng Yi Ting, a one-act opera set during the decay of the Han Dynasty (late 2nd century AD).  The events swirl around a plot to murder the autocratic imperial councillor Dong Zhou, in which Diao Chan (Shen Tiemei) seductively persuades Lu Bu (Jiang Qihu), Dong's godson, to do the deed.  They meet at the tea pavilion which gives the opera its name, and is the only scene of action.

Guo Wenjing's storytelling, based on Chinese traditions, upends most of what we have come to expect from western opera.  Diao lays out much of the plot in a prologue, and when Lu Bu appears, their conversation is matter of fact - no hugger-mugger drama, here. Jiang Qihu sings Lu Bu in countertenor, where Western convention would probably have him a baritone.  And the climactic murder, though on-stage, takes place buried behind scenery.

Yet there is no lack of drama in this production. Atom Egoyan's cleverly minimal direction, featuring careful shadowplay with lines of Chinese figurines, creates a foreboding sense of armies on the move with Diao Chan, playing among them, as a puppetmistress. The choreography, willowy for Diao Chan and aggressively stilted for Lu Bu, also contributes to the dramatic contrast.

Finally, there is Guo's brilliant score.  Much like Baroque opera, the music attaches certain moods to the characters - seductive and resolute for Diao Chan, dark and martial for Lu Bu - and the subtle slippage between moods tells the story at least as well as the words.  Guo is a master of transition, seducing the ear throughout the opera's forty-minute length. The Ensemble ACJW, supplemented by traditional Chinese instruments, gave a controlled, menacing reading under conductor Ken Lam.

Feng Yi Ting wraps up tonight at 7:30 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater (John Jay College). Tickets available online or at the box office.