IN: Reviews

Back to My Seat @ BSO Online


Mary Ferrillo introducing Caroline Shaw piece

Several weeks ago, having occupied my first seat at the memorable online debut of only the second woman assistant conductor in BSO history, Anna Rakitina, I resumed my privileged space—this time for Nelsons and more new works by young women composers. While music streamed, video acted as guide to Beethoven, Hannah Kendall, and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw.

Nelsons conducted Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica in reverence, perhaps because he had earlier viewed the informative “intermission feature” on Beethoven that we saw after this performance. Since its initial 1881-1882 season, the BSO has programmed the master’s works 3,700 times. Henry, the BSO Archive records 2,700 takes on the nine symphonies, with the Seventh, then the Fifth, and the Third receiving the most, as expected. Beethoven’s name crowns the proscenium arch, as “Spirit of Beethoven” clearly underlined concert’s thematic intent.

Taking the repeat of the exposition, Nelsons’ 55-minute Eroica also conserved tempos well out of reach of any extremes. Nelsons sculpted this Beethoven as self-assured protagonist on an even keel over the entire course of mounting suspense and liberation. His unyielding fixation on norms ultimately evinced a credibility and trustworthiness, reviving human conditions, more than human emotions under his baton. Well into the Allegro con brio, Nelsons, clutching the stick with his full hand and pointing with an outstretched arm, prompted yet more straightforwardness from the orchestra.

With a sense of long-established ways, this Eroica curiously refreshed, held meaningful ground—after how many times heard over a lifetime? Yet, the cameras approached with different eyes. The double basses’ deep drum-like rolls opening the Marcia fúnebre remained unseen. A prolonged shot of an empty Symphony Hall could have meant something at that moment. Witnessing the principal oboist John Ferrillo in closeups, his fingers sometimes reaching away from the instrument, it seemed that his eyes, and indeed his eyebrows, spoke much as did his instrument.    

In the Scherzo: Allegro vivace, a certain simplicity and reflectiveness thrived. Here, a pensive Beethoven revisited the upswings of a “hero.” The horns’ martial stances suggested a fine hunting day.

The ever-swinging dispositions in the expectant Finale-Allegro molto continued Nelsons’s even-handedness. Not so, again, with video cameras. You may also find the camera work often too busy, the shooting angles repetitive, closeups of soloists jumping unnaturally from one to another and, at times, even abruptly.

London born and New York based composer, the 36-year Hannah Kendall, has received international critical acclaim. Her mother, a teacher, and her father, a jazz musician, are from Guyana, South America. BSO notes tie her Disillusioned Dreamer (2018) to Beethoven’s own disillusionment as in his scratching out the name of Napoleon replacing it with Eroica.

Beethoven feature showed BSO players arrayed on substantial risers in the Rabaud era.

Her artfully orchestrated Disillusioned Dreamer swept in three large waves, the first beginning with two short chippings occurring between attention-getting silences. Crescendos of instrumental textures and forces surged over time-space footholds. Overall, it was as though being secluded on a sandbar, as increasing winds threatened. Keeping faith with social-medical doctrine, a harp appeared on one balcony and percussion across. The musical language of Hanna Kendall is of our time; its eloquence hits a high mark especially through the extraordinary grasp of the BSO.         

At 30, Shaw became the youngest individual to receive a Pulitzer Prize for music. The American violinist, singer and composer, now 38, performs primarily with American Contemporary Music Ensemble and with Roomful of Teeth.  Xin Ding and Catherine French, violins, Mary Ferrillo, viola, and Mickey Katz, cello, echoed the Nelsons-BSO Eroica trajectory by exhibiting a true sense of admiration for Shaw’s work Blueprint (2016), inspired by Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18 No. 6. Introducing Shaw’s quartet, violist Mary Ferrillo recalled the composer imagining speaking with Beethoven and his teacher, Haydn, while entering the conversation in her own pop idiom. Blueprint, then, is classical-speak with serious to comic touches. Two microtonal—out-of-tune—passages “blur the image” with small, terrific sensations. Shaw’s crazy substitute harmony for the cadential Neapolitan 6, is another of many imaginative thoughts in her three-way “conversation.”

According to the BMInt calendar, “Spirit of Beethoven” runs Thursday, February 11, 2021 through Saturday, March 13, 2021 “Everywhere.” Click HERE.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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