The Longwood Symphony Orchestra, one of the most committed institutions in the Boston, musical, philanthropic, and medical communities, returned to Jordan Hall Sunday. Both the auditorium and the orchestra seemed to be operating at about 40% capacity. The officially sold-out concert left an viral empty-hall feeling, as did the placement of 34 players on an extended stage which could seat 110. The upper strings seemed to be suffering most from the diminished numbers; the seven first and seven second violins did not manage a lustrous or even a blended sound much of the time. And disagreements about pitch were all too obvious absent the usual safety in numbers for this community orchestra. Altogether we counted 7-7-4-4-2 for the strings with 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, two trumpets, three horns and one timpani. Among the 34 members of the medical community on stage sat 10 actual doctors.
Ten minutes after the scheduled start time, LSO Executive Director Bridget Brazeau introduced the charitable honoree for the concert, Mary Harvey founder and executive director of Violence Transformed.[i] Harvey gave enthusiastic callouts to a dozen of her colleagues and spelled out her organization’s website at least that many times to the choir of believers in the room, without clearly explaining the work of her organization to the rest of us.
By 3:30, the committed players, who had seemed attentive to the speechifying, were ready to tune and get started playing and healing. The grittiness of the tone and the approximations of entrances in the opening strains of Beethoven’s Symphony Number 2 put us in mind of accounts of that April 5th, 1803 day in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien when Beethoven mounted his first and second symphonies along with his third piano concerto and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. Reports of the four-hour concert (after as many hours of non-stop rehearsal) suggest a rough and ready reading.
Despite the vagaries of execution, and let’s posit that this traversal bettered the premiere, Ronald Feldman showed intent in his conducting and the orchestra seemed to revel in contrasts of dynamics and the many Beethovenian surprises. I only wish I could have heard the eloquent sounds his hands and arms described in such elegant arcs. That said, there were of course some great moments from the winds, and overall, especially in the slow sections some attractive tutti episodes. Since we have no great performances of the rarely done second in our memory, we could enjoy the traversal with few reservations, mainly about balances. Strange to say, the small string section often covered the winds.
Notwithstanding my caveats, Beethoven’s Second certainly disclosed its charms. At first sounding like a lively overture to an opera that the master never composed, it took on wit, weight, and humor in equal measure. In it, we witness Beethoven beginning to transform formal structures. In the performance we observed that the very engaged players worked without safety nets, taking the occasional bruise but recovering quickly through the healing art.
Nearing 80, Victor Rosenbaum strode vigorously to the piano for a poetic and pearly account of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. We have always admired his superior artistry and his ability to draw listeners into his open heart. Feldman followed every nuance of this keyboard poet and the result: well-decanted vintage Rosenbaum. The first movement cadenza came to us as an impeccable, lustrous, and ravishing jewel, giving us a foretaste of things to come. His soul-stopping ritard led into marvelously varied trills which lived and breathed. Then the orchestra came back in.
Yes, some great solos came from the wind department, especially a wonderful flute-bassoon duet (Jennifer Zuk and Benjamin Steinhorn) in the Largo second movement. Therein Rosenbaum waxed warm and exuded a magical stillness. The pianist opened the third movement with dignified restraint; we expected less nostalgia and more speed and urgency. Ultimately, as that so-surprising and irrepressible rondo resumed its path to the coda, the mighty 35 adventured to the presto finish with power and drive.
This reviewer would gladly adventure back to the LSO when they return with full forces.
Rosenbaum encored with a lesson in layering, subordination of lines and differentiation of weightings in a very personal interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturne op 48, no. 2 in F-sharp Minor.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer
[i] Violence Transformed, an arts and social justice initiative of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University, draws upon the creative energies of artists throughout New England to document and celebrate the many ways in which our diverse communities harness art’s potential to effect social change and transform our environments.
In collaboration with our diverse partners, we stage an annual series of visual and performing arts events that celebrate the power of art, artists and art-making to confront, challenge and mediate violence. In this way we aim to broaden and diversify the audience for socially engaged artistic practice, amplify the voices of creative individuals and organizations at work in our community, and foster creative, socially conscious and trauma-informed action to address, overcome and prevent violence in our homes and our communities – regionally, nationally and internationally.