in: Reviews

October 13, 2012

Jurowski Debuts with BSO and Steinbacher


Vladimir Jurowski conducts with Arabella-Steinbacher (Stu-Rosner photo)

Thursday night the Boston Symphony Orchestra, led by Vladimir Jurowski, presented Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4. One program; two very different works; there was something for everybody in this concert.

Arabella Steinbacher took the stage before reduced orchestral forces to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E-Minor, op. 64. What Steven Ledbetter’s program note does not say is that this is the the more commonly heard revised version of that work, and not the “original” version which Daniel Hope has recently been championing. So the bar is set quite high for any performance, since this concerto – highly innovative at the time of composition for the first movement cadenza completing the development and starting the recapitulation, the first and second movements linked by a sustained note on bassoon, the third movement nipping at the heels of the second – is now a fixture on the world’s concert stages (not to mention a standard work studied in every violin studio). Ms. Steinbacher gave an accomplished and considered reading of this work, with good musical tone throughout. She announced the opening theme of the Allegro molto appassionato in a brighter color than the orchestra (who were perhaps already in the spirit of the Shostakovich to follow). The concluding presto in that movement was taken at a tempo too fast to project cleanly in Symphony Hall — at least, that is what I heard seated in the first balcony center. The second movement Andante was full of much tenderness. The third movement Allegretto ma non troppo opened with the solo violin quiet, almost dainty, then growing into prominence — a lovely musical idea that creates growth out of repetition and well serves the playful, Scherzo-like qualities of this movement. Whether because of issues of balance or projection, I could not hear this phrasing as clearly as I would have liked; similarly some g-string passages in the first movement were quite covered and the Andante sounded a bit thin. I do hope with more time in the space of Symphony Hall these issues get resolved so Ms. Steinbacher can be heard and fully appreciated on her own merits.

Intermission gave the staff of Symphony Hall time to crowd the stage with the chairs and music stands required for the immense orchestration (over a hundred musicians) of Shostakovich, Symphony no. 4. Composed in 1935 – 36, this work was not premiered until 1961 and, based on comments overheard, is one not widely known to local audiences. The work in performance runs over an hour and represents something of a compendium of musical ideas near and dear to Dmitri Shostakovich. I heard many points of contact between this work and several others of his compositions. This symphony contains a wealth of orchestral color, intriguing orchestration, and a panoply of musical ideas. Jurowski was a fleet and able conductor, marshaling the extended forces into a coherent and unified ensemble, giving clear direction, setting and holding well-chosen tempi, and changing the character of the playing as required to capture the many facets of this protean work. The half-hour long first movement, Allegretto poco moderato, opens with a theme announced on the xylophone before the low strings begin a rhythmic cell which carries the work forward. As this movement unfolds, a lengthy dance through and around traditional sonata form, there are opportunities for all instruments of the orchestra to shine. This work either embraces the irreconcilable contradictions of life (as per Marina Sabinina), or reflects 1930s Soviet “gigantomania.” In musical terms, there is a combination of rhythmic propulsion and tender lyricism, with extensive use of ostinato and fugato passages. The size of the orchestra provides great density and volume of sound. Vladimir Jurowski kept score with Shostakovich throughout this lengthy exploration, and was as effective during the fortissimo and presto passages as at the morendo ending of this movement. The Moderato con moto, a smaller and seemingly more intimate (although that term will always be relative in relation to this symphony) movement, brings the violas to the fore and whirls around dance-like music. The Largo, indebted to Mahler, is a dirge grounded on a tritone in the timpani; the effect of sadness and unease were very effectively conveyed by the forces assembled. That leads directly into the concluding Allegro which combines more popularly-phrased musical ideas with phrases that have gone before in this mammoth symphony. The celesta quietly brought the composition to a close – a haunting, ethereal climax to this massive work.

The applause was lengthy and sustained; it was also well-deserved. The BSO was in fine fettle for this work. I do wish the program had named the extended forces joining the core of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for this performance. There is no disgrace in acknowledging the talent and forces assembled which are decidedly beyond the normal scope of a symphony orchestra (four flutes, four oboes, divisi timpani, ten or more contra-basses). Not to list them in the program seems churlish in light of such fine and spirited music-making.

As for Vladimir Jurowski, this was his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He comes to Boston with impressive credentials and has conducted an impressive roster of orchestras throughout the world. Any conductor appearing on the podium in Boston must see this as a potential job interview, given the current situation. I am pleased with what I saw and heard from Mr. Jurowski; more importantly, the musicians seemed pleased and eager to work with him. I wonder if we will see more of Vladimir Jurowski in Boston in the near future.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.


  1. On Friday afternoon, from Row X center, the violin figurations were audible. We reveled in
    Ms. Steinbacher’s gorgeous tone and firm control. Eichler, in the Globe, thought her too discreet;
    not so: she displayed passion without self-indulgence.

    The BSO and Jurowski played a stunning Shostakovich fourth. Our only amendment to Prof. Prince’s
    review is that the audience on Friday, as usual, jumped in at the ppp close, ruining the suspense.
    Daniel Barenboim, in his Norton Lecture of a few years ago, emphasized that “Music begins in
    silence and ends in silence.” Sadly, that is rarely the case these days at the BSO (and NEVER
    at the Met.)

    Comment by Martin Cohn — October 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

  2. Thursday’s audience respected the silence at the close. I’ve not found an overeager audience a problem, certainly not to compare with the noise of falling seats that can be predicted at every performance, and which has grown worse with the increased number of empty seats. There were plenty empty on Thursday night, though I find it hard to guess the percentage from my spot in the 2nd balcony..

    Many BSO performances includes players who are not listed in the program. Sometimes they are trying out for a position and might not want any more public attention drawn to their presence than necessary. Do others want it “on the record” that they were asked to sit in and then not invited back? And I don’t see a reason to have different policies based on the scale of the works performed or the number of such players on any given program.

    Comment by Will — October 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

  3. I hope we will be seeing more of Jurowski soon. I lived in Philadelphia before moving to Boston 2 years ago and saw him conduct two concerts there while Philadelphia was music director-less. Although I am happy with their decision to bring in Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the Music Director, I was hoping Jurowski would be chosen (it was an open secret that they were the two finalists). I especially loved a concert of Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra and Mahler’s Das Klagend Lied (I went back for a 2nd time, it was so good). He is an excellent conductor of big, difficult works. We would be lucky to have him in Boston.

    Comment by Mark — October 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm

  4. Thank you Mr. Prince for your accuate, perceptive review.
    I disagree re: Steinbacher she did lack passion.

    Jurowski is by far one of greatest conductors I’ve ever seen/heard in 53 years (over 1500)
    BSO concerts attended. Rarely has the BSO played more brilliantly. The Shostakovich 4th is perhaps the composers greatest Symphony but his most inacceasable to the general listening public. The technical demands on an orchestra are enormous. Attending the previous BSO series performances: the last with Mark Elder 3 years ago were eclipsed by Jurowski (Thursday night). He is one of the busiest conductors in the world and his duties as music director of several major organizations would mean future BSO appearances would be rare..but what a great BSO music director he would be!

    Comment by Ed Burke — October 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

  5. Yes, Martin and will.
    The falling seats have reached pandemic seems to get worse with each concert! I’ve mentioned this issue several times but the BSO refuses to deal with it…after comments on cell phones, pagers etc…it would only take 10 seconds to mention “falling seats”..

    How True: “Music begins in silence and ends in silence.”

    Much fascinating news in the world of claasical music.
    Levine returning to the MET late in season to conduct 3 difficult operas.
    BSO has a partnership with former GBYPSO now Boston Youth Symphony. EXCITING

    Comment by Ed Burke — October 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm

  6. All they have to do is say, “If the seat next to you is empty, please lower it now so it will not fall noisily during the concert.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm

  7. No applause while the conductor’s hands are raised or still being lowered.

    But try enforcing that after the Beethoven 7th (or 5th or 9th).

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  8. With all due respect, I completely disagree with this review. We were at the Thursday night performance of Shostakovich’s 4th. With regards to the violin concerto, maybe no one else noticed, but Steinbacher had an annoying habit (most pronounced in the first movement, less so in the second, and not at all in the third) of vibrato that was consistently on the sharp end of notes, at times missing them completely. In effect, she was playing out of tune much of the time. To call this merely annoying is polite. All I could think is, does this woman even have an ability to hear herself? Both of us thought her performance was accomplished for a very good graduate conservatory student. There was nothing about her playing that elevated it to world-class soloist. Yes, she played quite sweetly when soft, but given that most of the time she was playing consistently sharp, it was difficult to give her credit for anything that went right–and that which went right did not compensate for what was so far off.

    As for the Shostakovich, I have to say, it was a far less successful performance than the great performance that Mark Elder gave us nearly five years ago. Maybe a lot of people are not familiar with this symphony; I am. Elder’s performance had me on the edge of my seat, with chills running up and down my spine. Jurowski’s performance was not bad, but it lacked the structure, searing intensity, and logic that Mark Elder gave us in spades. Elder’s was that rare great performance; this was functional. What was missing from Jurowiski was a logical sense of structure that Elder was able to provide (and which can be found in some great recordings such as Chung’s and Kondrashin’s). The work is sprawling, but sense can be made of it all. Jurowski didn’t put it across in that manner, and the performance never exceeded the sum of the parts, to my ears.

    I came into the concert aware that Jurowski is wildly loved in some quarters, and praised as one of the great talents of his generation. Perhaps he is that, but I didn’t hear it in this concert. Obviously one concert is only one data point. But there was nothing special in this concert, which was a disappointment, because it had the potential to be one of the best of the season.

    Comment by Herr Mogulmeister — October 13, 2012 at 6:07 pm

  9. Let me clarify my review with regards to the concert overall. There was nothing special about the *interpretations*. The BSO’s playing has been correctly pointed out as exemplary–and it was. The orchestra was fantastic throughout. The conductor and soloist, less so.

    Comment by Herr Mogulmeister — October 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

  10. Jurowski had no difficulty getting a final moment of silence from us on Thursday night after the Shostakovich because we were SPELL BOUND! What a magnificent performance. And Jurowski was every bit as moved as the audience. I love that he raised the score up high at his last bow, as though to thank the composer for what he gave.

    I think that Cashman Prince is right to speculate that the orchestra could not really focus wholly on the Mendelssohn because of the upcoming Shostakovich Titan — Shostakovich’s best, as Ed Burke writes, brilliantly conducted. I’m still in shock two days later.

    Comment by Ashley — October 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm

  11. Joe: you said :All they have to do is say, “If the seat next to you is empty, please lower it now so it will not fall noisily during the concert.” plus no applause etc. This is far better than my statement. BRAVO!

    Yes Ashley..I’m still in shock but on the best possible way!

    Comment by Ed Burke — October 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm

  12. Listened just beginning last night over FM and the rest this morning. I have no problem with what BSO did, it was a good concert and I’m kind of sorry that I did not go to the Hall to hear it live. “Kind of sorry” came from the fact that it was Shostakovich with all of his Shostakovich-like things. Most of the time as I hear Shostakovich symphonic music I can’t escape that sense of unrefined vulgarity. Jurowski did trying to play it meaningful and more loaded then typically-parochial Shostakovich but he could do only do little with this material. So, in the end I felt very similar to many other times I heard Shostakovich – a celebration of music for sake of music, sort of self-amusing cacophony courageously played by a hero-rabbit while foxes and wolfs are still sleeping. Why let say Brahm’s symphonic phrases are loaded with metaphors that related to universal humanity but the Shostakovich’s most of the symphonic output is nothing than metaphors about him runing out of toilet paper in a bathroom?

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

  13. Yes, “in shock” in the best sense, as in “blown away” — I listened to it again in broadcast last night. Wow. Absolutely shattering. As solemn as Missa Solemnis.

    But Herr Mogulmeister has given me a great curiosity to hear Mark Elder’s performance. I cannot find it online, alas. I’m dying to see whether Elder introduces the same terror, trauma, dementia, from the very start. Or is this Jurowski’s special genius.

    Comment by Ashley — October 14, 2012 at 9:43 am

  14. Romy The Cat,

    “Self-amusing cacophony” — no, no, no. Heavens. It tears right through layers of opacity to reach through to our inexplicable yearning.

    Comment by Ashley — October 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

  15. To echo the comments of others, I attended the Saturday night performance of the Shostakovich and I am still in shock and overwhelmed!! An incredible display of musicianship. One of the best performances I have ever heard at Symphony in over 41 years!
    I am still high as a kite! Jurowski has to be considered as a serious contender for music director.

    Comment by Bob Summers — October 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

  16. Vladimir Jarowski, age 40 made his MET debut at age 27 conducting Hansel + Gretel in Dec. 1999.

    Some of his conducting contracts end or come up for renewal in 2014. Perhaps there is a chance
    that he would consider becoming the next BSO music director: that is if the management agrees. It
    would be worth the wait!

    Yes, The Mark Elder Shostakovich # 4 was a great performance.

    Comment by Ed Burke — October 14, 2012 at 7:34 pm

  17. Jarowski and BSO? An interesting idea. A few years back Jarowski gave an interview and ranked BSO as 8th orchestra in the world, where top 7 were non-American orchestras. I wonder how he views might change since he had opportunity to work with BSO?

    Generally Jarowski might be a good candidate for BSO but I have 2 apprehensions.

    First, Jarowski, like any other contemporary conductors, is much too exposed to “globality”. He travels a lot, led numerous orchestras, does not even live in the cities where he is musical director. For sure it serves his interests but I am kind of old fashion guy from this perspective and I would like a new BSO director buy/rent a house nearby, move in his family, become the local person and build a bound with his orchestra and with his local field. Jarowski lives in Berlin, much more cosmopolitan city then our provincial Boston, and has much more opportunities from there then he would ever have in New England. If for some reasons he decided to become “Boston shtetl boy” then how dedicated would he be for his home band? We have seen how Logan airport conductors work out for BSO…

    Second. Jarowski very much might be a capable conductor, in term of interpretation of musical material, but what I know about him suggests that he is not too capable administrative person. I think a role of Musical director in Boston is not only doing his/her time on the podium but to be some kind of classical music attaché in New England. Does Mr. Jarowski equipped for this duty? Well, the people who will be in position to make decision shall for sure assess this side of new BSO conductor but I a bit concerned as those people do have unfortunately-proven pattern to make dumb judgments.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 15, 2012 at 8:11 am

  18. I’m with Romy re Shostakovich and Jurowski both.

    I heard that the orchestra didn’t liked being yelled at by Jurowski in rehearsal. OK, that’s a second hand quote. But “yelled at” were the words. Food for thought. Not the way someone who’s auditioning behaves, I wouldn’t think, though J was generous with the solo bows at the end of the concert.

    Comment by Will — October 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm

  19. I’ve enjoyed reading these comments from others, and am not surprised that a lot of readers are getting carried away with praising VJ to the moon from one cycle of concerts. And to be clear, a lot of readers are suggesting that Jurowski be considered a candidate to be the BSO’s new music director based on one (1) program consisting of a masterwork that few here really know that well. That’s dangerous territory, folks. Even if I’m the one dissenting voice on that concert, let me tell you, not only wasn’t that concert anything truly special, but worse, it genuinely paled in comparison to someone else’s work on that same symphony (Mark Elder) five years ago. Shostakovich’s 4th is an impact symphony. Don’t mistake it having impact on you, for actually being a strong performance of that symphony. I didn’t think Jurowski was inside the music the way Mark Elder was.

    I’m perfectly open to considering Jurowski as a candidate, and would want to hear him quite a few more times before considering him a valid candidate. But based on n=1 concerts, I heard nothing special last Thursday, and I personally see no reason to get so excited over Jurowski, notwithstanding all the good press he has received in various places over the years.

    There are lots of conductors who get good press and yet may not have the best chemistry with any given orchestra, and there are also conductors who get no notable press yet give concert after concert that is solid at worst and memorable at best. I would put someone like Hans Graf in the latter category, yet interestingly enough, no one seems to mention him as a possible future music director (Graf performed a Bruckner 7 a number of years ago that was so astonishingly good, I still vividly recall it even while not liking some of his interpretive choices). I’m looking forward to hearing Andris Nelsons, because he not only gets good press but seems to have delivered some memorable results here (I’ve never heard a single concert or recording from him, so truly, I have no opinion). I heard one great concert from Daniele Gatti (Brahms’ 4th) and one forgettable one, and I’m looking forward to hearing his concerts this season.

    I would love to know who else is being considered, and who is not being considered. Does anyone have any real knowledge of who is being considered?

    Comment by Herr Mogulmeister — October 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm

  20. Liebe Herr,

    I have spoken to a wide variety of people and have not yet found anyone who actually knows anything.

    That said, my guess is that Jurowski scheduled this concert before finding out that his LSO contract was being extended.

    Comment by Leon Golub — October 16, 2012 at 8:39 am

  21. “didn’t liked being yelled at by Jurowski in rehearsal”
    Hmmm…as a musician who played every one of these rehearsals, I’d have to say that is utter nonsense.
    Maestro Jurowski had clear ideas which he expressed to the players in a respectful, professional way. I never once heard him raise his voice or speak in any way that could be called yelling. Interesting how people who obviously have an agenda will make things up to achieve their goals…kind of like politics, isn’t it? Beware what you read. Beware what you hear.

    Comment by Clara — October 16, 2012 at 10:01 am

  22. Clara: …as a musician who played every one of these rehearsals, I’d have to say that is utter nonsense…

    Clara, I do not think that the posters at this site have any “agenda” or are trying to achieve any “goals”. Come on! What goals? I think the situation would be clear and less confused for non-participants if somebody like you, perhaps under a permanent pseudonym, would share your experiences about whatever you would like to share. Than no one would subscribe to any rumors and will be able from the reasons you provide to educate oneself on the subject. Also, “as musician who played every one of these rehearsals” you well know that your colleges have immeasurably more motives to express feedbacks and their feedbacks are very rare free from any agendas. I have seen your college-musician passed divesting opinion about a conductor job just because s/he had an uncomfortably- tight shoe during rehearsal. Make a conclusion.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 16, 2012 at 11:34 am

  23. Thank you Clara for your comment.

    Comment by Bob Summers — October 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  24. Hmmm. What agenda would one have to have to invent such an incident? Either true or false, it’s not about to influence those responsible for selecting a new MD. To make oneself appear to have inside knowledge? But if false, so easily disproved?

    A puzzlement.

    Comment by Jerome — October 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

  25. Maybe one of these things which changes in the retelling. One at the rehearsal says something which the second person understands in a certain way and uses the words “yelled at” to express his understanding — but they weren’t the words of the one who had been at the rehearsal, nor, perhaps do they convey very well what the person has been trying to say.

    I’d be inclined to accept the characterization of one who was there over that of one who wasn’t.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

  26. JOE:
    “I’d be inclined to accept the characterization of one who was there over that of one who wasn’t.”
    Yes…that says it all. How can anyone argue with this simple fact?

    I defy anyone to understand or make any logical sense at all re: Romy’s last post!

    Comment by Ed Burke — October 17, 2012 at 1:57 am

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