in: Reviews

May 3, 2018

BSO Cello Chair Blaise’s

by

Blaise Déjardin (file photo)

BSO Emeritus Conductor Bernard Haitink and pianist Emanuel Ax have been performing together so often and for a such a long time with this orchestra, they feel like (musical) family. But something exceptional happened at Symphony Hall Tuesday: Blaise Déjardin made his (unannounced) debut as the BSO’s Principal Cello.

Both Haitink and Ax have impressive Brahms performing and recording credentials. One of Ax’s early Grammy Awards was for his Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano with Yo-Yo Ma; Haitink recorded the Brahms Symphony cycle with the BSO between 1990 and 1994 (Philips); Ax and Haitink recorded this concerto with the BSO in Symphony Hall exactly 21 Aprils ago (for Sony Classical). At that time, Ax remarked that Brahms Second Piano Concerto lived up to its nickname, “the Heavy Cross…. It’s scary. Harder than Brahms First Piano Concerto, even harder than the Rachmaninoff. You have to match the orchestra in grandeur and scope.” The symphonic scope, ceaseless virtuosic demands and sheer power and energy needed over 50 minutes indeed this one of the Everests of piano concertos. Twenty years after recording this concerto, the two plus the BSO still make a dream team.

I had heard Ax with his longtime chamber music partner, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Leonidas Kavakos, a few months ago in an all-Brahms program (they recorded and were touring with the trios). Ax played gloriously that evening, as he did Tuesday night, and I was struck at the time that perhaps he has been under-appreciated. I was wrong. A packed hall last night gave him an immediate standing ovation and four enthusiastic curtain calls made me realize how Boston and Tanglewood (where, in 2014, he was one of the first Koussevitzky Artists) deeply appreciate him.

The big event of the evening, which the packed audience probably hadn’t known about beforehand, was the ascension of Déjardin, who has played for about a decade in the section. He succeeds the late Jules Eskin, who held the post for 52 years. Déjardin had the moral (and musical) support of the entire orchestra, especially among his cello comrades, in the opening work, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, played by this orchestra, along with the First Piano Concerto, almost every year.  While he is a familiar face, especially to the legions of fans of The Boston Cello Quartet, few of us have heard him as a soloist. And it was a real treat. He played the two important cello solos in the concerto’s third movement with grace and beauty.  Ax insisted, twice, that Déjardin join him at the front of the stage to share the crowd’s adulation. It was a truly memorable moment.

Bernard Haitink in bittersweet moment (Robert Torres photo)

The orchestra played beautifully in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 73 (1877) This, needless to say, is a piece most of the players could almost perform from memory. The horns (Associate Principal Richard Sebring played first here; Principal James Sommerville played in the concerto), winds, and brass proved themselves outstanding all evening. They responded sensitively to Haitink, who, standing with a straight back and only occasionally sitting on a stool, directed with quiet conviction, totally understood in his gestures. Knowing that he is not slated to appear next year made this performance extra poignant for both the players and the audience.

According to Jan Swafford’s annotations, Brahms described this symphony to Clara Schumann as elegiac, and wrote to his publisher, “This new symphony is so melancholic that you won’t be able to stand it. I’ve never written anything so sad…. The score must appear with a black border.” Yet, every movement is in a major key, and generally it is a cheerful, even ebullient work, especially the fourth movement with its triumphal blaze of three trombones in D Major which leaves audiences cheering. Swafford describes it beautifully: “Brahms’s Second is like a vision of nature and youth troubled by shadows that come and go like dark clouds in a summer sky.”

Haitink inspired the players to their loftiest work. They expressed their thanks by declining to stand up at the end, giving him the entirety of the crowd’s adulation, and demonstrating his BSO comrades’ deep respect.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.

21 Comments

  1. The BSO has posted a video clip from Tuesday’s performance on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bostonsymphony/videos/10155605010393269/), which includes the big cello solos and has a good view of M. Déjardin.

    Comment by Stephen Owades — May 3, 2018 at 10:28 am

  2. We’re going to the concert tonight and I am really looking forward to it. We have been so lucky to hear Bernard Haitink in Boston on a regular basis over the years. He rarely disappointed, and there have been many great performances under his baton. I’ll never forget the Bruckner 7 he did with the BSO around a decade or so ago.

    It would be nice to know why he is not returning next year to the BSO, as he is appearing with the Chicago Symphony and I believe also the NY Philharmonic. Will this be the last concerts of Bernard Haitink in Boston? Let’s hope not!

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 3, 2018 at 10:29 am

  3. What I am going to write may appear to be just gossip, but it may be relevant.

    During Nelsons’ 2016 Fall Brahms cycle, in one of the concerts, Martha Babcock was not in the principal seat as she was previously. In stead, she was in the audience, chatting with people, in a mood less than the most sunniest (as far as I could see). In the following concerts, she would sit in the last row of the cellos, obviously by choice, possibly as a statement.

    disclaimer: I am only reporting what I saw, since I never came across anything to say of there was some story behind. But I did not pay much attention.

    BTW: MM, I’d like to wash my memory to undo what Haitink had undermined Bruckner’s symphonies.

    Comment by Thorsten — May 4, 2018 at 12:57 pm

  4. Thorsten: “What I am going to write may appear to be just gossip, but it may be relevant.”

    Nope, just gossip.

    Comment by nimitta — May 4, 2018 at 5:32 pm

  5. While observing musicians can be a game, Thorsten is way off base regarding Martha joinning the audience- as an old friend of hers, back to when she was a student at Tanglewood Music center, before her BSo audition, she often sat in the audience(a lot of us play solo and then join the audience, sawe it last week in Vilnius in fact)- it is mean spirited to cast a picture of her doing this as some reflection of her postion in the section. Bad gossip

    Comment by virginia eskin — May 5, 2018 at 10:42 am

  6. I got the name wrong-is nimitta whoever that is

    Comment by virginia eskin — May 5, 2018 at 10:42 am

  7. Would Thorsten have shared his malicious gossip if the this journal required commentators to use their real first and last names? Certainly there are good reasons for nom de plumes to be allowed, but there might be even better reasons for such secrecy not to be allowed.

    Jonathan Brodie

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — May 6, 2018 at 9:09 am

  8. Hear! Hear!

    Comment by Alan Levitan — May 6, 2018 at 12:45 pm

  9. Virginia, as it is, there is a world of difference between Nimitta and Thorsten. Nimitta can be counted on for measured, thoughtful, and usually very insightful comments.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

  10. Although I do have my favorites, I won’t get entangled here in judging the merits (or lack thereof) of the critical chops of the contributors to this journal. But I will divide them into two distinct tribes: those who choose to sign their names to what they write and those who choose anonymity.

    Why does it matter? How a comment is signed does not alter the text of the author, but I (and perhaps others) stand in relation to a text with a real name attached to it differently than I do to a text written under a pseudonym. Why is this? Perhaps it is because (just like even the most abstract musics) pseudonyms adumbrate programs.

    The name “Nimitta” is Italianate and bucolic; “Mogulmeister,” a formidable resident of the Tuvan Steppes. These programmatic tracings may have their charms, but they are also detours that serve to distract. There is also, unfortunately I think, an obvious question that comes to mind to a reader confronted with a nom de plume at the end of a essay, why do these writers not want the public to know who the heck they are?

    For me, writing under my real name when I contribute here has been a blessing. If I were to write under a pen name (I briefly considered “A rube from Milwaukee”), G-d knows what sort of unhinged nonsense might have come from my keyboard. Knowing that what I wrote could be traced back to me has helped me keep my unhinged nonsense to a minimum.

    Jonathan Brodie
    Milwaukee

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — May 6, 2018 at 9:06 pm

  11. >> Knowing that what I wrote could be traced back to me has helped me keep my unhinged nonsense to a minimum.

    Most working reviewers know that this typically helps little; our unhinged nonsense knows few bounds.

    Those who seriously find Thorsten’s clumsy snark to be malicious, bad, meanspirited gossip do well not to get out more.

    Comment by david moran — May 7, 2018 at 1:19 am

  12. Mr. Brodie, let me respond to your comments as to why some may choose to write under a handle, and others use their own names.

    Some people have jobs or work in professions where it is necessary to keep one’s private life separate from one’s professional/work life. Doing so says nothing about the integrity of what is being written under a handle.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — May 7, 2018 at 9:23 pm

  13. Dear Mogulmeister,

    Thank you for your explanation. This was one of the “good reasons” I alluded to in a previous post.

    Perhaps it is time to develop a new reading strategy here: read the name of the contributor first before starting at the top.
    If your name there, I know that a profitable experience awaits.
    If some other names are there, I will leave the screen and go for a bike ride.

    With appreciation,

    Jonathan Brodie

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — May 8, 2018 at 8:41 am

  14. Can’t resist throwing two cents into this – but only after complimenting Susan Miron’s fine review, esp. on the debut of Blaise Dejardin, a memorable one for its superb musicianship, and the audience, bless ’em, knew it.

    Second: “nimitta”; “Italianate”? How so? Because it ends in an “a”? I think it in of Indian derivation, and therein may lie a clue.
    Now to pseudonyms: another reason for them is humor, a guessing game, or satire. I once wrote a doggerel on the silliness of our local civic org’s having turned down the requests of two restaurants to support granting beer and wine licenses. I quote here only one of the five verses, but you’ll get the idea: “And who are these restauranteurs to say That they’re trying to cater to palates gourmet, And that one should be able to savour poulet with a dollop of beer and wine?” It was published in the Boston Ledger as by “Inconstantia Bibula Distaffa.” The first is self-explanatory and -descriptive; the second is the feminine of “bibulous”; the third a pun on my maiden name, “di Stefano.” Three people solved it.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — May 11, 2018 at 11:44 am

  15. Ciao, Bettina! È divertente che tu pensi che il mio nome sia di origine indiana – i miei antenati nell’Antico Paese stanno sorridendo…

    Comment by nimitta — May 11, 2018 at 1:25 pm

  16. Nimitta, mille grazie — we all want to know who you are because we really love reading your comments. They are always insightful and illuminating.

    Comment by Ashley — May 11, 2018 at 3:35 pm

  17. This may be the reason:
    https://www.arrowriver.ca/dhamma/nimitta.html

    Pseudonym or not, I always enjoy your comments and look forward to the insights you provide.

    Comment by Leon Golub — May 11, 2018 at 3:37 pm

  18. Dear Bettina, I hope the misspelling of “restaurateur” was intended to be amusing. It’s constantly mispronounced in sound media and misspelled in print media. Of course there’s an easy way to remember it. The parallel instance of the dropped “n” in French (from which language, of course, our English term “restaurateur” is derived) is “amant” (physical lover) and “amateur” (lover of a particular pursuit, as in “amateur pianist”). How come no one ever says “amanteur”? Probably because “amant” never entered the English language, though “restaurant” obviously did, thank goodness.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — May 12, 2018 at 12:04 am

  19. Nimitta – evvero? Sorridendi come Pagliacci? La commedia e finita

    Comment by Bettina a Norton — May 12, 2018 at 12:14 am

  20. The dropped “n” was not intentional. It was a typo.

    Comment by Bettina a Norton — May 12, 2018 at 12:17 am

  21. Alan, are you sure about the dropped “n”? The nouns “restaurant” and “amant” are present participle forms of the verbs “restaurer” and “aimer.” This would imply that the noun forms meaning “quelqu’un qui restaure” and “quelqu’un qui aime” could legitimately be derived directly from the verb forms as “restaurateur” and “amateur” — granted that “amant” has prevailed, with a different meaning. As in “chanteur” (“quelqu’un qui chante”)from the verb “chanter”. Maybe I’m wrong. Language is so wonderful..

    Comment by Anne Davenport — May 12, 2018 at 7:39 am

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