IN: Reviews

Nostalgia at Symphony Hall


Randall Goosby and Andris Nelsons (Robert Torres photo)

I’ve been listening to the BSO since I studied at Tanglewood in 1975, and having been since 1980, a “Symphony Wife,” I’ve felt part of the “Family.” I’ve rarely reviewed this orchestra, even after my husband retired and possible conflicts of interest disappeared.

Friday afternoon, after a five-year hiatus, I sat in Row R in Symphony Hall, pondering my memories of the players’ individual and collective sounds. It was an extraordinarily moving experience. Of course, the orchestra has some 30 players who weren’t there yet when my husband, violist Burton Fine, retired 18 years ago. Everyone seemed youthful and fit, especially when I recalled 1975 when the first violinists all looked like they could have used a visit or two to the gym. And who in 1975 could imagine so many women conductors, women composers, and the excellent temporary concertmaster (unacknowledged in the program) Bracha Malkin, and the huge number of women in the orchestra? The orchestra under Andris Nelsons made a fabulous sound—better than I’d remember it.

A work of 10 enjoyable minutes, the overture to the opera, The Wreckers by an outspoken lesbian composer, Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), opened the program. [For more on the opera read a BMInt review of the US staged premiere HERE.] Amazingly all six of her operas were produced in her lifetime. She was a strong self-advocate, and her opera, Der Wald (The Forest), presented by the Metropolitan Opera in 1903, was the only opera by a woman that the Met produced for over a century. Aside from the Tangleood presentation of her BSO String Trio in D Major, Op. 6 at Tanglewood, this overture constitutes a first representation for the composer at these concerts. Jessica Zhou found and shared much to be liked in the harp part.

I don’t recall when I last heard Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, but it has hardly been absent from the BSO stage. It appeared in the orchestra’s second year, and virtually every important violinist in the world soloed here in it. But no one could have played it much better than Randall Goosby, a charismatic violinist in his late 20s for whom I predict a great future. The first thing one notices is Gossby’s refined, focused tone which reminds one of early Perlman, one of his main teachers. His sound is not huge, but quite beautiful, which can be partly attributed to his 1708 Stradivarius violin. The audience loved him and instantly rose up and cheered. His encore, Louisiana Strut, by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson again brought the house down.

Considering that the orchestra chose to play the work in its first season and it has continued to inspire conductors (Munch 20-plus times!), it came as no surprise that the BSO delivered Mendelssohn’s wonderful Symphony No. 5 in D Minor “Reformation” with carefully worked out dynamics and colors. Every section deserves laurels.A tremendous aura of joy prevailed. The flutist Elizabeth Rowe had a huge solo part which she played to perfection. Beginning Thank you to violist Cathy Basrak for answering my many questions.

My seat mate and I kept remarking on the fantastic clarity of the details. The orchestra, to my ears, never sounded better, and once again, I felt welcomed in a familial embrace.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.


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

  1. One correction: the guest concertmaster is in fact acknowledged in the program, on page 22,in the first line of all caps bold type immediately below “The Program in Brief” synopsis. This is the same location and in the same manner other recent guest concertmasters have been recognized. (No, I don’t work for the BSO; I’m just interested in following what’s going on.)

    Comment by Barry — February 3, 2024 at 5:39 pm

  2. TY for writing with such love for music and the BSO but why identify the composer as a Lesbian? Are you surprised that a lesbian can compose serious music? It’s 2024.

    Comment by Richard — February 3, 2024 at 6:26 pm

  3. Hi Richard, In the program book, it was made very clear that this was an important part of her life and identity. Please don’t be snarky about my mentioning this and please don’t insult me by asking if I am surprised if anyone of any gender “can compose serious music.” Do I come across as a mean-spirited, nasty and stupid person in the rest of the review?

    And thank you Barry. I didn’t see this on page 22. A friend pointed it out. I haven’t heard other recent contenders for concertmaster. I am afraid I’d been way out of the loop.

    Comment by Susan Miron — February 3, 2024 at 6:56 pm

  4. Excellent review and some of us are quite interested in the queer history of musicians and composers. I was fascinated by what i read about dame smyth and am glad the reviewer included her sexual orientation in the piece.

    Comment by Helen epstein — February 4, 2024 at 1:50 pm

  5. Neologisms and required new modes of address are all the rule now. I must say, however, that seatmate is a new one, though it calls up interesting images.

    Comment by Liam Allan-Dalgleish — February 4, 2024 at 8:09 pm

  6. Not new or a neologism at all, as a glance at the dictionary would’ve shown; also cf housemate, roommate, bunkmate, etc.

    Comment by David Moran — February 4, 2024 at 10:23 pm

  7. Susan: Thank for the thoughtful and well-written review. I was unable to attend this concert and value this meaningful contribution.
    Liam: “Seatmate” is not Susan’s neologism. The OED references a seatmate on a stagecoach, in 1913. The first documented use of the word was in 1859.

    Comment by Michael Raizman — February 4, 2024 at 10:30 pm

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