in: Reviews

January 6, 2012

Youth, Renewal, and Dark Ecstasy at BSO

by

Hakan Hardenberger, Mark Anthony Turnage, and Marcelo Lehninger (Stu Rosner photo)

Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger stepped in for Andris Nelsons for the orchestra’s series of concerts beginning Thursday, January 5th.  See the BMInt article here.

The youthful Brazilian with boyish face and heaps of get-up-and-go rounded up quite a show of appreciation–even the usually restrained members of the orchestra smiled, tapped bows and applauded at the concert’s end. It truly was an upbeat evening at Symphony; an evening of renewal featuring Swedish trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger.

Coming onstage in a very stylish coat of tails carrying three trumpets in hand, Hakan Hardenberger, who has been described as “the greatest orchestral trumpet soloist today,” blew the house down.  Beginning with the trumpet’s lower and mellower sibling, the flugelhorn, Hardenberger created a sound I cannot ever remember having experienced. It was as if Miles Davis had reappeared transmuted in a most elegant echo, a warm, promising, haunt—a Wow!

English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage specifically composed his concerto From the Wreckage (2004-05) for the Swedish trumpeter. Robert Kirzinger’s program notes quoting Hardenberger went straight to the point, that for trumpet: “There is no Brahms concerto, there is no Beethoven concerto to play. So to look for substance…I need to look for today’s composers.”

Wondrously rekindling the old-style concerto set-up, Turnage turned the traditional three-movement form into a three-part composition, each employing a different trumpet: flugelhorn, trumpet and piccolo trumpet. It was this last, the smaller sibling, on which Hardenberger soared to the high E known to coloraturas, a clear edgeless almost toy-like note on which  Turnage’s poetic piece disappeared into the night.

It was on the trumpet that Hardenberger at times came eerily close to imitating the human voice, a soprano, perhaps, with no vibrato and absolutely pure tones. Together, Hardenberger and Turnage created a fifteen-minute journey in this American premiere suggesting any number of metaphors. Urbane, elusive, atmospheric, darkly ecstatic, and impassioned, From the Wreckage undoubtedly renovates the concerto scene.

Appearing quite informal (no tie or jacket), as though he had just left his studio, where he very well may have been composing up a storm, Mark-Anthony Turnage, along with Hakan Hardenberger, graciously and happily accepted well-earned kudos. Marcelo Lehninger and the BSO were applauded as well by all, including both soloist and composer. As well it should have been: it was, indeed, a celebratory moment at Symphony.

Also Sprach Zarathustra of Richard Strauss may be viewed in the light of the composer’s own words about himself: “…I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer!” Yet one might take his epic tone poem, most often recognized as the theme to 2001-A Space Odyssey, as coming from “a truly great composer in Western music” (Paul Thomason in the BSO program notes). Or, maybe, what makes this music speak is its youthfulness.

Strauss had barely completed his Nietzsche inspired survey of mankind when he turned 32. Under Assistant Conductor Lehninger and an apparently extremely happy, augmented BSO, this old Strauss re-tread leapt forward into another life. Teeming with unfettered enthusiasm and altruism, Also Sprach Zarathustra came alive, virtuosic as it can ever get, young in spirit, yet from the experienced hands of a world class orchestra—a truly renewing performance.

One notable English conductor commented on the opener, Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G, saying that it is “some of the most complete music.” One of the most venerated American conductors of all time can be seen here in a clip on YouTube standing before the orchestra, arms at his side, following the orchestra, his face changing expression time and again as the fourth movement shape shifts, changes moods. Perfunctory, predictable, and precise could describe the BSO rendition of one of Haydn’s most popular symphonies. By refining the last chord of the first movement’s exposition—that is, making it softer, a sort of apology—Lehninger lessened surprise, taking away any suddenness at this stopping point. Taking a slower speed in the passage that leads to another sudden stopping point (toward the end of the Finale), then suddenly dashing “home” did not thrill.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net.

5 Comments

  1. Well, perhaps the orchestra should reprise the Haydn in their leaderless performance next week. It might prove to be less predictable and precise than last night’s.

    Actually, I rather liked the ritardando/accelerando at the end of the fourth movement, for which I’m sure a conductor comes in handy. And from where I sat, it seemed that Maestro Lehninger actually gave some of the rapid beats with motions of his head. And he didn’t have to keep his arms still in order to have facial expressions, unlike the Bernstein of the ridiculous, vulgar display Mr. Patterson linked.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — January 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

  2. I’m not sure Mr. Patterson was at the same concert I was at on Thursday night. Was this a Friday afternoon review?

    Thursday night certainly didn’t bring along any smiles from the orchestra, unless they were tongue-in-cheek.  I counted more rolled eyes at Maestro Lehninger’s exuberant and energetic conducting than smiles from the orchestra. The Strauss was nothing short of terrible on Thursday. The orchestra represented true disdain if not interference to the clarify that Mr. Lehninger showed them. Entrances were scattered, notes were displaced everywhere, and none of this was the fault of the 32 year old conductor, but perhaps the 60-something members of the orchestra who were not impressed and who rarely are.

    Mr. Hardenberger showed us all that he is truly the greatest virtuoso trumpeter of our time, but if he echoed the human voice in any way you could not hear it on Thursday. The orchestra, again with great indifference and perhaps disgust that a trumpeter had taken the stage, performed to loud for many of the passages to be heard.

    I hope these things have turned around since Thursday night. 

    Comment by Andy — January 7, 2012 at 11:20 am

  3. I went to the Friday afternoon concert.  I thought the Haydn was not very good.  It appeared to me that the conductor was not in control of the orchestra, and I thought it was more the orchestra’s fault than it was his.  They sounded like a student orchestra unfamiliar with the appropriate style.  I thought the Strauss was very good at times and just OK at others.

    Comment by John — January 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

  4. Hmmm. Thursday night I saw no “rolled eyes” as Andy did. How does one tell if an orchestra member is smiling at or with the conductor? A smile of relief at getting through a difficult passage — we see that ll the time — or just sheer enjoyment at playing with a talented young conductor? It’s such fun to watch his feet leave the podium occasionally after so many anxious moments watching Levine’s legs flail about.
     
    What was very clear to me was the orchestra’s enthusiastic bow tapping for Lehninger during the final bows, including some of the most enthusiastic handclapping I’ve seen from some of them in  a long time. I assume that is what Prof. Patterson is referring to when he describes the orchestra as “extremely happy.”

    Comment by Bill — January 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

  5. At the open rehearsal on Wednesday night I had the impression that youthful Lehninger was intimidated by the orchestra.  There was little instruction given to the orchestra, only one or two small adjustments (repeats) made, and he let the orchestra go home much earlier than their union contract requires.  The Haydn was dull, and the chance to invigorate it at the rehearsal was lost. 

    Comment by Bob — January 11, 2012 at 10:26 am

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