IN: Reviews

Colossuses at Symphony


Anne-Sophie Mutter, Andris Nelsons, and John Williams, with Beethoven’s Overture, “The Consecration of the House,” John Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2, and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, apotheosized opening night and re-consecrated the BSO house. Ending a 20-month audience absence, a nearly capacity masked, expectant crowd greeted the orchestra in a ringing welcome back last night.

Nelsons pulled the reins in early on Beethoven, finally loosening up on the fugal and final drives. Brilliance unrolled in the four-panel concerto with limitless virtuosic and orchestral encounters featuring Mutter in the starring role and Williams directing. Endlessly captivating to ear and eye, both violinist and composer revealed an intimately personal collaboration, surely a chartbuster. For their encore, a twist, a special arrangement of a 1972 Williams soundtrack. The BSO and Nelsons evinced memorable moments of charm, lyricism and fun, eschewing Bartók’s haunting world. The orchestra in top form did not disappoint in its surpassing artistry.

Nelsons led Beethoven’s The Consecration of the House Overture, the work which, in 1881, began the BSO’s long run. An unexpected smooth-edged announcement of the opening chords to the slow introduction would ultimately set the tone for the processional music. Brass fanfares overtook the rapid-fire bassoon duet allowing only a few last notes to come through. For most of the time, Nelsons overlooked the Overture’s potential for any real spunk.

This past August, Mutter and Williams with the BSO premiered Violin Concerto No. 2 at Tanglewood. This new work, another one for his friend, largely received positive yet wait-and-see-again reviews. For this first Boston performance a listener noted “music that has to fit to a storyline seems to suit Mr. Williams than music for which he has to make up the story himself.” Robert Kirzinger’s essay deferred to Williams, whose own words offered little comprehensive guidance.

The four movements, Prologue, Rounds, Dactyl, and Epilogue, rather than standing alone, formed a four-panel composition. In this semi-abstract continuum, Williams plumbed violin techniques for superstar Mutter in a starring role. The harp placed near the podium played an important but limited role throughout. Williams featured the timpani in a cameo role. As with the violin, the composer of well over a hundred film scores sounded the orchestra in an astounding array of compositional encounters.

Mutter, Williams and Nelsons last summer (Hilary Scott photo)

The Concerto is a must-hear. It dazzles and emotes, making known the mind of a composer out of Hollywood writing concert music. It was at once beautifully bewildering and a masterfully crafted work.

An aside, CLASSIC fm digital radio listed some of Mutter’s favorite albums—Ella Fitzgerald and Korngold film tracks. Obviously, an update is in order.

Taking to the podium Williams pointed his baton to Mutter amid the audience’s joyful greeting and then waved to all with a sunny smile. After the performance he spoke of returning to this “magical place” and being with “one of the greatest instrumentalists on earth.” The encore, his own and only arrangement for orchestra and violin of his music for Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” invoked nostalgia all around.

Over three quarters of a century ago, while World War II still gripped the nation, Serge Koussivitzky commissioned and conducted the BSO in the premiere of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra at Symphony Hall. One of the premiere performances is posted on YouTube. This 2021 iteration under Andris Nelsons journeyed along cool and calculated routes, clarity being a priority. Some old-time fun from the bassoon and muted trumpet wizardry in the Game of Pairs movement spun away. Lilt from the oboe and other winds in the Interrupted Intermezzo breathed fresh air, the interruption with the lead clarinet and the brass glissandi mocked Shostakovich —all in good sport. Some promising suspense in the Finale, instead, wound up spotlighting BSO’s stellar sound.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair 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).


8 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. “Bewildering” may be the nicest thing I could say about the violin concerto.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 2, 2021 at 4:18 pm

  2. Isn’t it “Collossi”‘ not Collossuses? Or have I forgotten my high school Latin?

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 3, 2021 at 4:13 am

  3. Es(o estis, cum rectitudo) rectus.
    Viva la lingua antica

    Comment by Bettina Norton — October 3, 2021 at 10:30 am

  4. Shoulda commented on the performance. The Williams was just too long. Several times, the music quieted down to plaintive phrases from the violin, and I thought, nice way to end it. But instead, it continued, several (half a dozen?) times. Enough, already.

    Comment by Bettina Norton — October 3, 2021 at 10:34 am

  5. The Williams piece was one of the worst violin concertos that I have ever heard. I assume that Anne-Sophie Mutter played it well. After all,it was written for her. Hearing it again would probably reveal subtleties I missed the first time, but I doubt it would change my overall view of the work. David Patterson calls it a four- panel composition. Analogizing it to another art form, it was like four empty frames hanging in a museum side by side. The first panel/movement consisted of amelodic moaning/keening/shrieking by the violin either solo or with bland orchestral accompaniment and in duet with a harp which contributed some desultory plucking. It led to a crescendo highlighting the timpani. The second panel was more of the same, as was the third and the fourth. It was “too long” due to the dearth of ideas. After the first movement, I was curious where the following movements would go. Williams just repeated himself. It seems that John Williams had enough inspiration for perhaps a 10 minutes piece (which still wouldn’t have been great),but decided to stretch his minimal ideas into a full length concerto.

    Comment by Bennett — October 3, 2021 at 1:20 pm

  6. First, let me say it was sooo good to be back in Symphony Hall last night! I felt that Anne-Sophie Mutter performed the Williams violin concerto with exquisite finesse, feeling and execution. As to the concerto itself, like almost everybody else, I felt it to be overlong with echoes of Bruch and Korngold seasoned with Williams bombast (which he does so well). There were parts that were very good and parts that were not…a curate’s egg of a concerto. That said, I’d listen to it again.

    Comment by David Derow — October 3, 2021 at 8:07 pm

  7. what was the encore played by Williams & Mutter at the Saturday 10/2 concert?

    Comment by Dennis Milford — October 10, 2021 at 4:47 pm

  8. Marion’s Theme from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

    Comment by David Derow — October 12, 2021 at 8:39 pm

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