The Boston (Summer) Festival Orchestra’s “Promenade” featured the world premiere of the three-year-old group’s first commission. The engaging Forbidden Dances, by the young Afghani composer-pianist-conductor, Arson Fahim, inveighs against the Taliban’s banning of music and dance—and indeed, their outlawing of creativity. Starting with a simple, comfortably repeated first theme, Forbidden Dances becomes syncopated with pizzicato starting from the bass viols and cellos, and then spreading to the violas and last, the violins. The initial section then builds to a high pitch with Afghani folk tunes and tambourines. The middle portion projects dreamy warm romantic phrases. The finale, initiated by the flutes and then other winds ushers in a celebratory mood soon amplified by the orchestra. Within the work, which successfully enfolds traditional Afghani music and dance into an orchestral setting, one hears evocative phrases and plaints that conjure a bazaar, a wedding, and the ethereal and profane aspects of dance and delight.
Both the journey of this young composer and this premiere moved us. Fahim, born to Afghani parents in a refugee camp in Pakistan, was drawn music as a tiny child. Upon hearing a piano in a next room at the refugee center, he stole into that room, and his first piano lesson occurred right then, sealing his determination to make music his life. Fahim, [BMInt interview HERE] notes in a YouTube vignette about the work [HERE] “for me, music is all about how I can raise my voice for justice and for the freedom of being able to play music, and for us about humans to be able to express ourselves through our art.”
The evening of movement continued with Krysten Keches delectable performance on her Lyon and Healy Style 23 harp (made in 2009) of Debussy’s 1904 Danse sacrée and Danse profane, two movements in A-B-A form and triple meter, both in D. The first, mostly in the Dorian mode, marked 3/2, Très modéré, begins with a slow, dreamlike, melody (perhaps “borrowed” from his friend Francisco de Lacerda’s Danse du voile) by the strings, soon joined by the harp with gentle chords, solo focus, though strong string collaboration. The second, profane, mainly in the Lydian mode is faster and only a bit less dreamy. Written for the now-historic Pleyel cross-string or chromatic double harp, modern harps do it justice. Keches has played since the age of four, and by now she has garnered worldwide raves. She encored enthrallingly with composer-harpist-pianist Carlos Salzedo’s Chanson dans la Nuit.
Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony with its many moods and standout instrumental passages delighted. Inspired by a visit to Holyrood Castle in Edinburgh in 1829, it took the composer until 1842 to complete the work. For strings plus 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and timpani, an initial somber melody enters with the violas and oboes, along with support from horns and winds, in this performance done with excitement and rapt attention. The second theme, even more stormy, appeared, carried by the violins. Then the first theme returned with the second as a counter. Interplay continued in the primary allegro segment, and then throughout, with almost visual tension and, finally, after the recapitulation, the theme of the introduction wafted briefly, rounding off the movement, which then went directly into the Scherzo second movement, with its faux-Scottish tunes imparting a sense of the highlands, plus touches of Mendelssohnian wood-sprite magic. Indeed, the audience was pulled in by the clarinets followed by the whole orchestra. After the briefest of pauses, the Adagio third movement recalled both song and processional pomp, aided by pizzicato sections by the strings. And finally the militaristic fourth movement—initially labeled Allegro guerriero by Mendelssohn—provided a solid and stalwart climax. In all, after 180-odd years, the Scottish remains deeply exciting and fulfilling.
What a concert! Executive Director Nicholas Brown’s warm introduction, Alyssa Wang’s articulate commentary (and charismatic conducting), plus the high caliber of the largely young, professional musicians in BFO, to say nothing of the meaningful and exciting Fahir world premiere (plus his joy over it), and the entrancing performance by harpist Keches, gave rewarding proof that the thriving, young BFO is headed in the right direction! Their season concludes at Jordan Hall on July 30th.