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.