IN: Reviews

Nelsons, Skride and BSO Fully Alive


Baiba Skride with Andris-Nelsons (Hilary Scott photo)
Baiba Skride with Andris Nelsons (Hilary Scott photo)

The youthful get-up-and-go of Andris Nelsons, coupled with the seasoned know-how of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, showed just how great an experience of symphony can be. Add to that the young, masterly violin-playing of Baiba Skride and you get a Thursday evening off from the tread of usual music-making. Entering Symphony Hall to find an offering of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium Concerto for Violin and Orchestra along with Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 43 could only boost anticipation.

Interestingly, this and last week’s program found similar pairings with a violin concerto on the first half and a symphony following intermission, thus two running chapters, so to speak. For this listener, the two Thursday concerts were as different as night and day. Last evening, the BSO became fully alive, the soloist deeply involved, and Andris Nelsons’s moves were something on which to feast your eyes.

This being my first encounter with the newly installed conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I was both surprised and amazed. While conducting with his right arm, he would often rest his left hand on the rear railing of the podium, signaling a certain informality or even casualness. His deference to both soloist and orchestra, also unexpected, was in and of itself quite moving. Yielding the full spotlight to Baiba Skride, Nelsons did not even accompany her on stage for a second curtain call. When onstage with applause ringing out, he could be seen shaking hands with members of the orchestra, waving fingers for BSO principles, his own hands applauding all the performers. All this would have him appear to be part of us, the audience, and if not that, then a part of the orchestra rather than its leader.

This was totally touching, and wonderfully so out-of-the-box.

A rare level of communication with violinist Baiba Skride showed up through and through Gubaidulina’s 1981 (with revisions coming later) Offertorium. That Skride and Nelsons have regularly collaborated over the years was abundantly evident. Indisputably, both interacted seamlessly, and both were completely and directly in contact with the Russian’s scorching, spiritualistic score.

With Skride, Nelsons and the BSO, the first half or so of Offertorium underwent a far-reaching, sometimes gut wrenching, process of humanization. After that, as the chromatic theme borrowed from Bach gradually became restored, that process gave way to an immaculate conception. The young violinist’s tone summoned a strange, often frightening beauty ever so inviting, ever so at the heart of the mystical work of the 83-year-old Russian.

The Offertorium’s color-filled galaxy met straight on with the BSO’s own unbounded clusters of timbres, a veritable awesomeness everywhere. And as in the Gubaidulina, the Sibelius would see Andris Nelsons literally reach out to every section of the orchestra, going to the left and right of the podium’s edges with arms extended, fingers waving much like those of a magician, even an index finger pointed as if a miniature baton.

Particularly striking was Nelsons’s approach to the grand climactic moments of both the Gubaidulina and the Sibelius. Nelsons chose a methodical holding pattern, almost lulling in effect, which would gradually, at first almost imperceptibly, build and build. That lull would lead to spine-tingling sensations, spontaneous yet inevitable. This too would demonstrate both Nelsons’s absolutely firm technical control over and uncanny insight into the music’s underpinnings.

The Finnish composer’s Symphony No. 2 from 1902 became the second master performance of the evening: there was heightened communication between conductor and entire orchestra, there was precision galore, and there was music that came fully alive with convincing emotion and meaning.

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. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).


6 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Professor Patterson”s enthusiastic review added to our recollections of this pair of artists’ Shostakovich of 2 years ago will mean 2 more in attendance next Tuesday night. Thank you BMI and DP.


    Comment by morty schnee — November 9, 2014 at 1:38 pm

  2. The Sibelius really rocked on Saturday. I can’t imagine it won’t also be great on Tuesday.

    Comment by Camilli — November 9, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  3. The Gubaidulina ditto, over the air (to my ear and taste anyway): quite the piece, fascinating it’s already 30 years old.

    Comment by David Moran — November 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm

  4. Gubaidulina is 83, so in her “ninth decade” according to program notes.

    Comment by Rogers Howard — November 10, 2014 at 2:03 am

  5. I just listened to the stream of the Sibelius Second. I thought it was free and flabby, a boring performance. And Nelsons is what age? He’s too young to conduct like he’s in his 70s.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — November 15, 2014 at 3:06 pm

  6. happened to hear Nelsons’ interview on radio during the weekend. Unlike his natural music flow while conducting, his speech was horrible and lacked of basic articulation, even though he was sincere. The interviewer’s flattery annoyed the listeners most, as if there were lots of new revelations of music were brought to light. In general, this kind of interview/conversation is so overrated.

    This review of S2 concert was written by the same author of a BSO S2 review a few years ago. I tried to keep my disappointment to myself but now I can not since I am triggered by that interview. However it would be too demanding to ask for a good review because the ‘educated’ audience generally have no idea what this symphony is about. The western scholars miss the target by a mile. The 4th movement does bring the listeners the feeling of Finlandia. However one can not approach to this composer in a superficial way. The symphony is not a patriotic propaganda music. It is full of ‘legends’.

    I thought Nelsons’ concert brought out too much patriotism in the first movement and the music was not played clean enough for the first half of the symphony. That was my impression at the time, but it has been a while.

    BTW, commenting for Ein Deutsches Requiem was closed. I was asked for my opinion on Terfel and I answered
    Terfel sung 3rd movement in a personal way. It was like ‘I am so sad. why do I have to die? I don’t want to die.’ I think it lacked the nobleness in a way that ****** conveyed on CD. ‘why does a human being have limited life? we love you lord, but we have to bear with this unjust rule’ I want to hear this passage from baritone with full honor and dignity. Terfel had strong voice, but it was somewhat disappointing.

    Comment by Thorsten — December 1, 2014 at 3:14 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.