Richard Dyer, Historic symphonies elicit emotional performances (Boston Globe, March 3)
Allan Kozinn, With Its Maestro Absent, the Boston Still Takes Beethoven and Runs With It (New York Times, March 8)
The Beethoven featured a powerhouse veteran quartet: soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, and tenor Clifton Forbis were anchored by bass-baritone Albert Dohmen, whose solos were commanding. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus rounded out the massive and demanding undertaking, the sheer volume of which was appropriate for the magnificence of the last movement. The BSO will perform this program at Carnegie Hall on March 6.
The ambitious Beethoven/Schoenberg project has provided the opportunity for Boston concertgoers to hear an abundance of exciting programming in a relatively short time span. Additionally, the project rapidly encapsulated the conflict of programming traditional and modern (or at least modern-sounding) literature. The conflict, of course, exists between seasoned professionals – who, with varying motivations, see the significance of classics as well as modern works and attempt to present such dichotomies with the intent to illuminate – and the wide-ranging tastes of the public. It’s a sticky subject, and it never dies, especially since ticket sales hang in the balance (the BSO concerts that focused on Schoenberg alone suffered from anemic attendance). Conductor’s prejudices, previews, elongated program notes, and assurances from reputable sources that the modern sounds really are “accessible” seem only to be stifling the potential of such programming.
Why? Perhaps because the attempts to fill the seats rely upon the premise that listening to modern works (or any works, for that matter) will sate a need for the listener. When this doesn’t happen, when the composer fails in proving something to the listener, the fault lies invariably with the composer and the artistic director who programmed the work. Never is it mentioned that the listener, the conductor, and the orchestra members are all experiencing the product of a musical mind that is of a higher magnitude than their own. To do so would be even more damaging to ticket sales. It would, however, be honest. And for the specific argument presented in this season’s programming – that Schoenberg and Beethoven are intellectual and artistic equals – this approach could have helped demystify the music in question. After all, one cannot receive a music degree from an accredited institution in this country without studying, or at least understanding, Schoenberg’s techniques, in addition to Beethoven’s.
The project will continue over the summer at the BSO’s Tanglewood programs, and again during the 2006-2007 season – which will include a pairing of the Beethoven and Schoenberg violin concerti with the Grosse Fugue (see Alex Ross’s article about a newly found manuscript), in addition to concert versions of the operas Fidelio and Moses und Aron.
D.C. audiences will have an opportunity to see the BSO [tragically, sans James Levine--ed.] at the Kennedy Center on March 11. The program will include Elliott Carter’s Three Illusions for Orchestra, Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel, Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and the D.C. premiere of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, the Boston premiere of which was reviewed on this site.