Earl Lee, the Korean-born Canadian conductor, appointed Boston Symphony assistant conductor in 2021, made his BSO and Tanglewood debut on Saturday evening, anchoring the program with Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony and offering relative novelties in the first half.
Brian Raphael Nabors, born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1991, learned piano early, and spent his teen years writing jazz and R&B, though he remained largely self-taught at first, while discovering the orchestral riches of film scores by composers like John Williams and Danny Elfman. A bachelor’s degree from Samford University in Birmingham was followed by advanced study at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. A Fulbright Fellowship took him to Sydney, Australia, in 2020, and the following year he was a Tanglewood Fellow in composition, when Iubiloi was performed here.
Pulse was composed for chamber orchestra in 2017 for performance at the University of Michigan that year. He enlarged the work to full orchestra for a performance by the Nashville Symphony two years later. As the title suggests, it is an inventively rhythmic piece, with passages designed to evoke everything from a modern city to a hushed wilderness, with imaginative scoring (especially for percussion, which “infect” other sections with percussive approaches. The piece grabbed the listener with its color and energy. It is something I will look forward to hearing again.
Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos is one of his most charming and light-hearted pieces, filled with cheeky jests, but with a gently second movement theme that he thought of as Mozartean. The finale is a brilliant rondo with the two pianos competing delightfully with one another. It is a work that seems to invite twins, and that was the case here, with Christina and Michelle Naughton making the most of its elegant wit in their Tanglewood debut.
Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony, beginning with Scottish mists and ending with suggestions of Highland warriors, is normally an audience favorite, and justly so, though on this occasion it seemed as if the mists stayed rather much in control, draining the piece of some of its energy. Most likely this came from the necessity of rehearsing the two earlier works on the program—the Nabors, which was entirely new to the orchestra, and the Poulenc, which appears only once every decade or two—while the Mendelssohn is very familiar to all. The vigorous finale helped bring up the energy level for the end, matching with the liveliness of the earlier parts of the evening.
Steven Ledbetter is a freelance writer and lecturer on music. He got his BA from Pomona College and PhD from NYU in Musicology. He taught at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, then became program annotator at the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1997.