About a month ago the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra decided to add an extra concert that unfortunately has flown under the usual concert listing radar. Anyone at Sanders Theater on Monday at 8:00 will find the orchestra giving itself a send-off gala to demonstrate its touring wares before impressing the capitals of Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. For this writer, the story is how conductor Benjamin Zander is making of the Franck D Minor something of a resurrection symphony in a free concert that also includes Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis and Arutiunian: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra.
For Zander the talking point is the latest success of one of his young players.
“Twenty-year-old Elmer Churampi, who just made the final round (one of three finalists) for the first trumpet position in the Pittsburgh Symphony, is probably the best trumpet player of his age in America today. Everyone is talking about him. He won the NEC school wide concerto competition and will be playing the same concerto with the Pops next season. We haven’t seen a trumpet talent like that hereabouts for quite a while.
Before playing the rollicking Libertango of Piazzolla as an encore (listen here), he will solo in the fabulously lively Aurutiunian Concerto. He will be reprising that role twice in Lima and again in Cordoba, Argentina. His debut at the Gran Teatro National is billed as a major musical event in the press in the Peruvian capital. Elmer will be returning to perform in his home town for the first time since he came to the US as a teenager 6 years ago. His father is a street musician (trumpet) and his mother takes in laundry. It is one of the great musical Cinderella stories”.
Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber was once quite popular, it even made the rounds for many years in a concert band version. The famous flute solo (Carlos Aguilar) is gobsmacking. Critics such as myself found the BPYO on world-class form with this work. It made such a fine, lusty conclusion to BPYO’s concert last March that they decided to open Monday night’s event with it.
The Belgian/French Caesar Franck’s D Minor Symphony might not be an obvious candidate for resurrection. Though the BSO has booked it 232 times, its ubiquity markedly declined in the 60’s through the 80s. Nowadays it’s a true rarity. Zander has rethought it from the ground up. “The opposite of my usual approach of following the composer meticulously, I am letting each section find its tempo from the texture (or registration) like an organist. Some old hands (Richard Dyer, David St George, Mark Churchill all of whom are set to go along on the BPYO tour) are finding it fresh and new—excited that a work that is often thought of as heavy, square and lugubrious turns out to be thrilling, highly dramatic, quick-silver. I am very excited about my new discoveries. It is an unqualified and unjustly ignored masterpiece. The orchestra is on fire and playing it magnificently.”
Of the many interpretations on YouTube it is Mengelberg’s with the Concertgebouw [here] that most compels my admiration. It is marvelously personal: gooey, dramatic, and heartfelt at the same time. Yet there are logically plotted color and dynamic niceties and tremendous rhythmic surprises. Zander points us to Paul Paray’s more straight ahead version [here] with the Detroit Symphony.
Brian Bell nominates Monteux/Chicago [here]. Chicago brass are in their absolute prime, with Phil Farkas playing the second movement horn solo. If you find the Living Stereo remastering, the 1961 RCA recording is still astonishing. Monteux is still faster than the VAST majority of recordings in the past 50 years. I think he may be within seconds of Paray.
FLE: The kids you are leading probably have no idea what a potboiler the Franck symphony became in the years before they were born. I wonder whether many of them were hearing it for the first time at the rehearsals.
BZ: Yes it was new to almost all of them. Many had no idea it existed. The NEC Symphony did it last year, so some of them knew it from that. I think they only gradually realized what a masterpiece it is. One of the viola players, a composer actually, astonished me by telling me it is his favorite piece of all the repertoire of the year!
Did you have to make any excuses for playing it?
There was a little resistance at first. They had been totally Mahlerized by the experience of playing the Sixth Symphony, so the Franck seemed a bit coarse at first compared to the Mahler. I think the constant doubling of voices bothered them. It doesn’t any more. They have understood the organ-like nature of the sound and are relishing it.
Will I hear some big sectional portamenti?
We have already worked on some portamenti, but on the tour we will have a chance to work more on all the repertoire. That is one of the wonderful aspects of going on tour. It happens every day, instead of once a week!
Will the winds and brass sound like judgement day?
Judgement Day will sound tame by comparison. The end of the symphony today in the rehearsal left us gasping with the glory of it all.
BPYO and Sanders Theater June 12 at 8:00
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis
Arutiunian: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, Elmer Churampi, trumpet
Franck: Symphony in D minor
Free to the public or $100 donation for the VIP section.
Monday June 12th is also the release date of the commercial recording (the first release of the BPO’s in-house Brattle Media) of the BPYO performance of Mahler 6th from the performance in Symphony Hall on April 23rd. It will be available for sale ($20) at the concert and on-line in all the commercial venues: Spotify, iTunes Amazon etc.