in: Reviews

July 16, 2012

True Tanglewood Tribute? The Prelude Concert


The real force behind the value of Tanglewood is its Fellowship program. Saturday night’s 75th gala concert at 8:30 paid tribute in the short film to the two first composers who were brought in to help with this – Aaron Copland and Paul  Hindemith and also mentioned the great Leonard Bernstein’s strong presence. But the Prelude Concert, which preceded the gala, featured the music of all three. The program, as is often the case, was superb, one of the main delights of a Tanglewood weekend. Perhaps this one even served as a better tribute to the Tanglewood legacy — what the center has contributed with its Fellowship program to music performance in America, and three of the country’s most famous composers who were intimately part of it.

Bernstein’s Music for Two Pianos, composed when he was 19 and a student at Harvard, surely helped the young man become a member of the first class at the Berkshire Music Center in 1940. The jazzy, honky-tonk piece, with touches of Messiaen, was played with verve by Alexander Bernstein from Washington State, one of this season’s New Fromm Players, and Andrew Zhou, from California. Tempo and emotional development was so important to Bernstein, which both these young men seemed to understand. It was a delightful start for the concert.

Hindemith composed his Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano in 1937-38. The superb program notes pointed out that this unusual orchestration preceded the same one used by Messiaen in Quartet for the End of Time. (The notes, as an added pleasure to be noted by BMInt readers, were written by Zoe Kemmerling, who served as our intern last year and contributed both articles and reviews.) “Little wonder,” Kemmerling wrote, “that Hindemith, having just escaped the tightening grip of fascist Germany, imbues the piece with grimly obsessive motives. A nervous twitch, two sixteenth-notes in a descending fourth, dominates the first movement like an idée fixe.”

The long-held note on the solo clarinet (John Diodati) that led into the quiet, major-key ending of the first movement was hauntingly beautiful. The cello in the second movement seemed a bit overpowered at times but Diana Flores had been stuck on a bus in particularly horrible Tanglewood traffic. This held up the performance for a few minutes and surely was unsettling for her. Pouncing on a pianissimo lovely passage from the violin (Thomas Hoffman) was an eruption from the piano (Katherine Dowling), which Kemmerling aptly described as a “terrifying whirlwind.”

A word about Hoffman. He has such beautiful tone and wonderful expressive quality (so evident in the abrupt change of tone for the second theme of the second movement) that I sought him out. He was born in Japan, where his family lived until moving to Alabama when he was five, then to Pennsylvania. A student at Boston Conservatory, he is a young man to watch.

For the third piece, the Tanglewood violins and violas stood (a la A Far Cry?) for Copland’s Nonet for Strings, composed in 1960. Its major-key typical Copland folk melody-flavor is broken periodically with 12-tone dissonances, a refreshing look at the composer’s foray into the realm and a welcome journey for the audience into an unfamiliar work. The solo cello (Jesse Christeson? this could not be verified in time for publication) is one more example of the best Tanglewood offers.

Bettina A. Norton, editor of the Intelligencer, is a retired museum professional. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle. She has been attending classical music concerts “since the waning years of World War II.”


  1. <3

    Comment by Tom — July 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm

  2. Thank you for such a lovely tribute for the fellows. They are a strikingly fine group this year. For clarification, Jess Christeson was indeed the first cellist in the Copland. Norman Fischer, Coordinator of Chamber Music, TMC

    Comment by Norman Fischer — July 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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