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.