in: Reviews

October 13, 2017

Ready for Hilary Hahn

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Thursday’s BSO concert began with Ligeti’s Concert Românesc, and it was, to this reviewer, a very pleasant surprise. I was braced for a series of somewhat abstract Romanian folk melodies, and while the piece itself is not one of my favorites, the performance was a remarkable and engaging display of precision solo and ensemble playing. This piece contains numerous challenging fast tempo passages, and it was very impressive to see and hear the BSO players make it all seem effortless. Special kudos to concertmistress Tamara Smirnova, who executed numerous solo sections with her usual virtuosic aplomb. 

Next up, the main event: superstar violinist Hilary Hahn playing the Dvořák Concerto.

I confess, I have had a musical crush on this woman for a long time; her precision, intonation, and intensity of performance are second to none. And her performance this evening, the first time I have seen her live and in person, only served to reinforce my opinion of her. She is a true master. 

She established total command of Symphony Hall at the outset, but alas . . . perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was slightly disappointed. Not in her playing certainly, but it seemed as though the full potential of what could have been as a violin with orchestra concerto performance was not realized. I have to question Gustavo Gimeno’s leadership style here. While his powerful leadership in the Ligeti led to a superior performance, when a soloist of Hahn’s stature is playing the main melody with precision and total command, too much direction from the podium struck this reviewer as redundant overkill. While Hahn’s playing was consistently wonderful, overall, there were many moments where the collective performance between soloist and orchestra seemed to struggle to gel.

Hilary Hahn and Gustavo Gimeno (Robert Torres photo)

That said, it was still a great solo performance start to finish, and she received a well-deserved standing ovation.

What was most notable about the closer, Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, was the slow movement, where it seemed the Gimeno relaxed a bit, letting the players play. Even though this is not considered to be a top tier work, it didn’t matter. For the second time that evening, as in Hahn’s encore of the Bach Gigue from Partita No. 3, I experienced the collective cultural transcendent consciousness and extraordinary ensemble tradition that is the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

On a side note, I have not been to Symphony Hall in quite a while, but when did the Thursday night concerts become casual Fridays? I was amazed to see so many people in blue jeans and polo shirts, and felt terribly overdressed in a suit and tie.

Justin Locke is a former double bass player in the Pops Esplanade Orchestra as well as a self-described dilettante psychologist/historian.

4 Comments

  1. On Friday there was no lack of ensemble, but as reported, Gimeno over-conducted, gesturing and pointing to sections and soloists as though the BSO needed the cues for their entrances.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — October 14, 2017 at 9:25 am

  2. The BSO rarely watches a guest conductor, with a few notable exceptions. They listen to each other and actually beat Gimeno to one cadence, just by a fraction.
    I am an older generation and always, by respect and habit, dress for concerts. I think the important point is that younger people are coming to Symphony, thanks to the draw of our young maestro, who the players always watch!

    Comment by Nancy Aspel Haase — October 14, 2017 at 7:01 pm

  3. I have just returned from Saturday’s performance. The Ligeti was exquisite(Smirnova was superb), and Gimeno let Hahn be Hahn in the Dvořák with transcendent results. I cannot recall ever having the Schumann First taken quite so briskly, however. I felt that Gimeno’s quick tempi throughout led to a lack of definition and a certain muddiness in the ensemble playing.

    Comment by David Derow — October 15, 2017 at 12:46 am

  4. As someone who regularly attends BSO concerts and always wears jeans, I just want to be on record that I’m not offended by people who wear suits and evening gowns. I’m just grateful that they’re there at all.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — October 15, 2017 at 8:02 pm

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