Newly appointed Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger made his BSO debut in Symphony Hall on Thursday evening, October 21, at the opening concert of a series featuring works by Barber, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. The program featured soloist Pinchas Zukerman for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61. Considering the current circumstances of the Orchestra, audiences have a higher-than-usual investment in the ability of the new Assistant Conductors. And Lehninger’s debut was undoubtedly met with a meticulous eye. Across the entire program, audience response was overwhelmingly positive, and Lehninger’s conducting was assured and unfaltering.
Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal opened the program with a sort of modest brilliance that can only be found in the music of Barber. While the non-overture is far from a masterpiece, knowing that it was indeed the composer’s first work for orchestra speaks volumes to Barbers genius. The woodwinds are given a prominent role, and the playing of oboist John Ferrillo and clarinetist William R. Hudgins was particularly noteworthy. Lehninger brought out the quirky moments of the piece with charm, and navigated the swift tempo changes and juxtaposed moods with ease. The piece is a short one, and lead into the much more well-known masterpiece, Beethoveen’s Violin Concerto in D.
Despite having the stage-presence of a rock, Violinist Pinchas Zukerman is a virtuoso with a magnitude of musical sensitivity. The opening movement had some brief awkward moments, but the virtuosity displayed in the first cadenza left nothing to be wanted. The sheer power that Zukerman is able to produce in an otherwise silent hall is beyond me, and, I presume, beyond most violinists. But his real strongpoint is his lyricism, and for this, the Larghetto contained the most effective moments of the concerto. The Rondo was performed masterfully as well, opening up more acrobatic dialogues between the soloist and the orchestra. The dynamic conclusion of the violin concerto was greeted with a standing ovation.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 is a visceral and powerfully dynamic beast that gives any orchestra the chance to show its muscle, and is programmed often because of this. That the orchestra is able to create such an immaculately cohesive wall of sound is enough to remind even the patrons in the furthest rear corner why they bought their tickets. Lehninger showed particular care for the details – particularly in the shapely swells that gracefully close off melodic lines in the Andante cantabile. While the Valse left something to be desired in terms of the longer line and was not quite as elegant as it could have been, adrenaline was poured from every inch of the stage into the Finale.
Of course, both the Tchaikovsky and the Beethoven have a fairly ingrained performance tradition, due to their popularity. These aren’t the kind of pieces that demand a conductor re-invent the interpretive wheel. I would even argue that the best display of Lehninger’s chops was during Barber’s Overture, which is by far the least exemplary piece on the concert. Regardless, Lehninger’s work on each of the three pieces was well beyond impressive, and the audience gave him due credit. Followers of the BSO are unquestionably keeping a close and critical eye on its new conductors, and the official verdict is far from out on the newcomer. Nonetheless, it’s both comforting and exciting to see a promising new generation step up to the plate.
Lehninger, Zukerman, and the Boston Symphony repeat this program on Friday at 1:30 pm, and on Saturday and Tuesday at 8 pm.