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Tanglewood Festival 2016 To Be a Feast


Mark Devoto ca. 1980
Mark DeVoto ca. 2000

Running from July 3rd (Prairie Home Companion warmup June 25th) to August 28th, the Tanglewood-to-be promises an abundance of deeper challenges among its harvest of crowd-pleasers. The information received thus far presents preliminary and incomplete teasers of events numerous and varied.

Summertime on the lawn or in the Shed implies a certain relaxation and dolce far niente, in addition to serious concentration. So while I have railed in the past about too many performances of works of lesser quality, I can be sympathetic if a Tanglewood performance is involved. And some of the programming is inspired. Friday July 22nd sees two outstandingly dull warhorses, Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia and Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, but sandwiched between them is Dvorák’s Violin Concerto, with Lisa Batiashvili. On Saturday, the high point is the complete Sombrero de tres picos of Manuel de Falla, one of the more sparkling creations of Diaghilev’s later years, but to hear it you have to endure Tchaikovsky’s overplayed Piano Concerto no. 1, the consolation being that soloist Garrick Ohlsson is one of the best pianists alive. One BSO program features Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite no. 2—it’s hard to get tired of either—but winds up with Carmina Burana, vulgar albeit good-natured fun.

On the roster is a feast of top-shelf pianists. Paul Lewis has only relatively recently become well-known to American audiences, but he will give a Prelude concert July 29th and two days later play the Brahms D-minor Concerto. Nelson Freire will perform Mozart’s K.271 concerto on August 7th (some consider this brilliantly original early work the composer’s Eroica). That concerto is paired with Mahler’s Symphony no. 1; a sort-of mirror image of the program will take place July 29th, with Jonathan Biss and Mozart’s K.595 Concerto on the same program as Mahler Nine. (Talk about heavy: I’m reminded a 1959 Karajan and Berlin Phil program for Boston comprising Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Bruckner Eight.) There will also be Daniil Trifonov (Chopin F minor), Yefim Bronfman (Liszt A major), and Yuja Wang (Ravel G major and Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, a bad pairing).

The Boston Symphony offers plenty of Beethoven (Symphonies 6, 7, and 9; Coriolan; Piano Concerto no. 3 with Igor Levit) and more Mozart (in addition to that mentioned above, Piano Concertos K.482 with Emanuel Ax and 488 with Menahem Pressler), and this year more Prokofiev (Symphonies 1 and 5; Romeo and Juliet) and less Stravinsky (Firebird Suite only, although a chamber program will include l’Histoire du soldat and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra will do The Rite of Spring).

Some programming is daringly original. A concert performance of the first two acts of Aïda? That will be on August 20th, Andris Nelsons conducting. A BSO program with Dohnányi on July 16th seems focused on approaching death: Strauss’s Metamorphosen and Four Last Songs and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, representing some of those composers’ greatest achievements. On August 14th, Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret, a group from Australia including a cabaret artist named Meow Meow, comes with the caveat “Please note that this concert contains adult themes.” I hope to read a full report, because I can’t be there. On Thursday August 25th there will be a presentation of La gloria di primavera by Alessandro Scarlatti, which the New Grove lists as a serenata for five voices and instruments depicting the four seasons, premiered in 1716 in Naples or possibly Vienna. It seems a genuine novelty to put on such at Tanglewood, but many will welcome it outside of the Boston Early Music Festival, and anything is preferable to Vivaldi’s infernal Four Seasons.

Midweek programs include several of particular interest. There will be piano recitals by Freire, Trifonov, and Jeremy Denk. July 6th will feature a brass-and-percussion concert with BSO players. On July 13th the Emerson Quartet with Renée Fleming will perform Berg’s Lyric Suite with the vocal version of the sixth movement, Largo desolato, plus Egon Wellesz’s Sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (I have just received their recording of both of these works, on Decca). The Browning texts from Sonnets from the Portuguese were translated into German by Rainer Maria Rilke, the Baudelaire, in the Berg, by Stefan George.) Jordi Savall and two ensembles, Hespèrion XII and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, will present “colonial and folk music from across South America,” ancient and modern. On July 27th Chanticleer will present “Over the Moon,” a “lunar-inspired program.” I note also a sleeper which is a real gem: on Wednesday August 10th, in addition to some smaller pieces and an electronic novelty, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players will play the lovely Nonet by Ludwig Spohr, which I’ll bet hasn’t been heard in New England in decades.

The Festival of Contemporary Music (what used to be called Fromm Week), July 21-25, includes 22 composers, mostly featuring new works and climaxing with Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. This Koussevitzky commission masterpiece was premiered in Boston in 1949, conducted by the 31-year-old Leonard Bernstein; it’s less a symphony than a grand, inspired, often beautiful, often frankly pornophonic concerto in 10 movements, ranging from the utmost bathos and vulgarity to extraordinary brilliance of sound and texture (a student once described it as “Ravel on drugs”).

The list of conductors includes some of the usual suspects, notably Nelsons (five programs), Dutoit (three), Andrew Davis (one), and Dohnányi (three including Beethoven’s Ninth as season wrapup), and at least half a dozen names new to me. The complete program when released in detail will cover more than briefly described here, but it already promises to be a Tanglewood season of special interest. I was a student there in 1959 and have not been back since 1980, when my daughter was a student there; spending some of July and August in Lenox sounds like a real treat. And yes, back then I heard Lukas Foss play five Bach concertos in just one evening.

The draft schedule is here.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, harmony.


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

  1. I’d be curious to know whether, if Mark thinks the Ravel G major is a bad pairing with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, he thinks it would also be a bad pairing with either the Gershwin Concerto in F or the Gershwin Second Rhapsody.

    Also, anent the Spohr Nonet (what a tragedy it was for musical pundom that Luigi Nono never wrote a nonet; but I digress), it was performed in 2013 at the Portland Chamber Music Festival.

    Comment by Vance Koven — November 20, 2015 at 11:17 am

  2. I’m glad to know that Sibelius 5 is dull and the Dvorak Violin Concerto is an example of “inspired” programming.

    Comment by Joel Stein — November 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm

  3. Is a PDF of the schedule available somewhere on the BSO website?

    Comment by Don Drewecki — November 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

  4. Sorry, I see the “Draft” now. Thanks.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — November 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

  5. No longer draft, looks like:

    Comment by David Moran — November 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

  6. Please ask the BSO to bring Igor Levit back to Boston with them, and see it they can persuade him to give a recital or two. In my opinion he is the best of the current under-30 set of pianists, a cadre which includes Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov, Khatia Buniatishvili, and Benjamin Grosvenor. All of these are superb, but Levit is a genius.

    Comment by SamW — November 21, 2015 at 9:25 am

  7. Ludwig Spohr’s nonet is, indeed, a lovely piece. It was performed in Boston in 2012 by the Atrium Winds & Strings. The live recording by that group is at for those who would like to become acquainted with the piece.

    Comment by Michael Tabak — November 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm

  8. [SamW]
    >> my opinion [Igor Levit] is the best of the current under-30 set of pianists, …

    Finally you reveal yourself to be Alex Ross.

    (More seriously, you have heard Albright and Kholodenko?)

    Comment by David Moran — November 21, 2015 at 5:22 pm

  9. Unless I am very confused, I am not Alex Ross. Well, I am very confused, but not about that. I think. Actually I didn’t know Ross had written about Levit until I read your comment, which lead me to a review of his recording of the late Beethoven sonatas and a performance of the same. Illuminating, as usual with Ross. Thanks.

    I haven’t heard Kholodenko. I’ve heard Charlie Albright several times at the Gardner, always with great pleasure and even delight. It’s difficult to compare him to Levit; for one thing, I have never heard Levit perform live, and I have never heard Albright any other way. It’s one of the ironies of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that I am much more familiar with the playing of a pianist that I know only from recordings than with that of one I have heard several times in the most intimate of environments.

    I don’t want to disparage an artist I admire greatly in order to praise another. I will just say that when I listen to Albright I think of youth, promise, vitality, potential, but when I listen to Levit I don’t think of any of those things, I only think of the miraculous music. He is fully formed. Though he is only 28 he doesn’t seem young, or old either, but timeless.

    His recording of the late Beethoven sonatas belongs with those of Pollini and Kovacevich, his recording of the Bach Partitas with that of Perahia – and these are his first two recordings ! His playing of the Allemande from the fourth Partita, one of the pinnacles of Bach’s genius, is a sustained, ecstatic peroration that seems a perfectly natural, unconsidered cry from the heart, and is yet carefully built and developed. It made me think of the 31st of the Diabelli variations, and wonder whether Beethoven may have been influenced by the Allemande.

    A few weeks ago Levit released his third recording, which is really three recordings – the Goldberg Variations, the Diabelli Variations (did I see that coming or what ?), and Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated ! The Bach and Beethoven recordings are some of the best I’ve heard. The Rzewski is an enormous revelation. I previously knew this only from Marc-André Hamelin’s recording, which I liked well enough but which didn’t make much of an impression on me. Levit’s is brilliant; I was immediately persuaded that the work was an undiscovered (or lightly-discovered) masterpiece. I don’t know if that will hold up, but I’ve listened to it a half a dozen times and it hasn’t let me down yet.

    Comment by SamW — November 22, 2015 at 10:47 am

  10. Thanks much for detailed report; will check out IL recordings. Back when, Drury was the man for Rzewski (and many other things).

    Comment by David Moran — November 22, 2015 at 1:09 pm

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