IN: Reviews

BSO Engages from Studio E

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So many facets of life and lifestyle have been altered for so long that even-once pithy titles for music-in-exile events have become trite. Nevertheless, musicians and arts organizations are to be praised for focusing their energies on continuing, in some form, to create art and keep their audiences engaged. The BSO deserves a hat-tip for presenting a series of somewhat-live concerts during the fraught Tanglewood season, though as groups are still getting their sea legs in this brave new normal, we offer some suggestions for improvement.

For example, Friday night’s chamber concert featuring BSO players seemed even shorter than its 50-minute runtime. Lauren Ambrose appeared as host in a video message and introduced the entire program; nonstop music followed until curtain time. If she instead had introduced each piece individually, the offering would have better conveyed the pace and rhythm of a concert. Perhaps management intended to provide a list of pieces on screen, but I never found it.

So what about the music? In an age when it seems many are asking that same question (albeit with slightly different emphasis and inference), the BSO prepared and presented a quality and engaging product ― not quite an authentic experience, but nevertheless enjoyable. Broadcast from Studio E in the newly constructed Linde Center, the concert comprised three chamber works. Violinist Lucia Lin opened the show with the “Haillí (Prayer)” from the Suite Mestiza of multicultural American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Its recurrent motif was reminiscent of a Postmodern Lark Ascending (or Lark Captive — or better yet Lark Reveling in a Middle Ground). Exploratory portamento tremolos and doublestopped tritones emerged as interludes and outbursts from the self-contained spirals of the main motif, culminating in an ending not so much fading away as suddenly frozen in time. Lin expertly executed the many challenges and drew us in..          

Cellist Owen Young joined Lin for Ravel’s masterful Sonata. If Stravinsky called the composer a “Swiss watchmaker,” the duo-Sonata seems akin to a modern pocketwatch, with a glass back exposing the many tiny components incessantly and meticulously working together in concert to keep a seemingly simple machine going. For most of the movements, and especially the first, the cello sounded appreciably softer than the fiddle, interrupting some of the hand-offs between voices which were designed to be seamless. It is entirely possible that the sound mix (each player was individually mic’d), could have been at fault, since I generally do not encounter any anti-cello bias in my gear: MacBook Pro+Harman Kardon headphones.

Lin and Young showed great synthesis throughout, in a conception more elegant and less edgy than a Laredo-Robinson interpretation. Again, it could have been the technology, but some of the usually more impressive outbursts felt tamed and overly well-mannered. I was expecting more wildness and unpredictability.

Distanced Mary Ferrillo, Randal Hodgkinson, and John Ferrillo in scrreengrab.

Two Rhapsodies for oboe, viola, and piano by early BSO violinist Charles Martin Loeffler is a product of its time but also by now has entered the standard repertoire. Featuring Mary Ferrillo (viola), John Ferrillo (oboe), and Randall Hodgkinson (piano), the trio handily crafted this work, which comes at the ear in waves of lavish late-Romantic torrents. A friend of Fauré, Ysayë, and Busoni, Loeffler crafted and revised carefully, and the music belies this; its many effective gestures and sonorities recur and recur. The Ferrillo duo beautifully handled one of these recurring motives wherein the viola and oboe play in octaves (which almost sounds like the setup of a joke, except the result was faultless). The threesome wove velvet from start to finish, with excellent balance, tone, and phrasing. The second of the two rhapsodies starts from a declamatory statement and spins into new worlds; the coda leaves the earth behind.

The BSO and Tanglewood should be commended for their efforts in presenting these events, though they also need to give further thought to what form they would like their events to have, what they are trying to achieve. In an age where YouTube can bring decades of great historical performances into our homes, what does a new concert (especially one with a ticket charge, although very inexpensive) offer? If mirroring a concert experience as closely as possible is the goal, simple things, from interludes between pieces (à-la BSO radio broadcasts), having the musicians enter the stage than being already in their seats, cutaway interviews with the performers between works, and possibly even having the event actually streamed live would help distinguish these events from the overloading amount of free, but somewhat sterilized, old performances online. The performance will remain on bso.org until July 24th.

Patrick Valentino, a graduate of New England Conservatory, is a Boston based conductor, composer, performer and author. More information can be found at his website.

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