IN: Reviews

Last Conductor Tryout


Andrew Altenbach (file photo)

The Brookline Symphony fourth and final concert concluded its season in fine style on Sunday at All Saints in Brookline, with a very strong performances. The orchestra showed refinement, breadth of dynamics, and exciting musicality under the baton of music director candidate Andrew Altenbach, who currently is music director of opera at Boston Conservatory, and former artistic director of the Boston Opera Collaborative. His confidence, clear beat, and expressive gestures made for musicmaking of the first rank. Even a very few clunkers were of no consequence in the sweep of unhurried phrases with logical buildup. It may well be that Altenbach’s extensive opera conducting has contributed to his ability to allow the music to breathe, but whatever the reason, the result was outstanding.

The cheerful, frothy Overture to La Belle Helene (1865) by Offenbach opened. The opera is a light comedy based on the myths surrounding the Trojan War. If one can picture Parisian café-goers in togas, sort of an extended blonde joke, one gets some idea of what’s going on. The delightfully absurd story is backed by music lovely and lighthearted, and the orchestra gave a solid rendering.

The great Sibelius Violin Concerto is deceptively difficult, and it contains melodies serene and mysterious. In particular, the opening rocking motif in the violins from which the solo voice emerges, as if from mist, seems to define the whole piece. Soloist Subaiou Zhang, a member of this BSO’s violin section, won the season’s concerto competition. Zhang’s bio informs us that she studied the instrument seriously from three to 12, then set it aside, coming to the US from her native China to study biological sciences and pursue a career in medicine. The violin called her back, however, for which we should all be thankful.

In every sense her mastery of the work was clear. She showed superb use of bow distribution, with some of the most elegant upbow staccato I have seen anywhere. The interpretation was also personal, each phrase speaking, not just a display of chops. The orchestra followed her every move, never overpowering when she was playing, but letting loose with very full sound whenever she was not: excellent, sensitive accompaniment under Altenbach’s careful ears.

After intermission came the major offering, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, a familiar work lovingly played. From the rich opening cello section melody to the very end, it was directed with fine attention to line, some exquisite pianissimo, and broad, well-balanced brass. Special notice should go to the solo flute, lyrically played by Krystin Moore, yet the winds as a whole were top notch as well. The brass section sounded tuneful and tasteful while still managing to convey a wash of power when called for.

The Brookline Symphony seems poised to become a real presence in the musical community of Boston. It will be fascinating to see who will be the next music director and where that titulaire will take the orchestra.

Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.

Comments Off on Last Conductor Tryout