IN: Reviews

Civic Voicings


On the verge of its centennial, a full-size Boston Civic Symphony thundered through Carl Nielsen’s Inextinguishable, dreamed Claude Debussy’s Faune with professional, together with “exceptionally skilled student and amateur” instrumentalists, and introduced 16-year-old competition winner violinist Dana Chang in Henri Wieniawski’s second concerto. The Civic’s mission also places emphasis on developing a broad-based audience, whose presence at New England Conservatory’s revered Jordan Hall Sunday afternoon would make a difference as well.

With at least 15 classical music events around town, several of them symphonic and mostly occurring at the same time, it is a wonder as many chose to attend that did. And they came with more than enough spirit to go around. After what could be described as a silent prayer, Music Director Francisco Noya opened with Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Debussy’s solitary flute inviting a world of illusion, other BCS solo winds following each coaxingly voiced. Without baton, Noya elegantly induced the orchestra to dreaming with make-believe scenes becoming ever more real, ever more present, from a full-tone body of swelling strings, the whooshes of two harps, a forestry of wind-blown instrumental sonorities, the final delicate rings of a small antique cymbal closing our eyelids. An outbreak of audience appreciation awakened. 

John Chang photo

Featured soloist Dana Chang, winner of the Boston Civic Symphony 2023-24 Young Artist Concerto Competition, leaped apace into the third movement of the Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor with assistant conductor Fernando Gaggini. Possessing a fieriness for the Allegro con fuoco appassionato with manifest force and speed, Chang sang out the Tranquillo in broad strokes of the bow. The spiccato, a slightly bouncing bow, new to Chang despite violin studies since early childhood, further displayed exceptional control of technique. Allegro moderato à la Zingara arrived with her giving into a faint smile, the free-spirited folk dance full of youthful gusto. Even over the strength shown by a completely committed Civic, Chang’s single voice could be clearly heard answering with assurance and determination. And that performance had Civic’s players joining an unreservedly noisy show of well-deserved support from everyone at Jordan. And the future of the young prize winner? Dana Chang shares that while always having music by her side, she still wishes to pursue a good number of other studies as well.   

A special moment was taken to honor Michele Mortensen, Civic’s Executive Director and “horn player at heart” who “took her final bow on the stage of life on October 7, 2023.” The mixed multitude of musicians chiming Elgar’s Nimrod variation engendered a deeply moving tribute.

Noya quoting Nielsen on his Symphony No. 4: “Music is life and, like it, is inextinguishable.” Again, with immediacy, becoming lifelike, a responsive Civic voice endured unflaggingly over the entire course of the Danish composer’s immense non-stop monument, surpassing a role of expressive proxy. A certain gaze from the orchestral corpus indicated an unmistakably real and spontaneous unfolding of the human condition. The Inextinguishable was alive: from the collective energy of the podium where a dressed-in-all-black conductor, the figure of a silhouette who silently signaled, to a mass of seated personages about the stage who alternately voiced and listened. Nielson’s orchestration allowed Civic’s members equal opportunity to participate in his music-is-life. And each and all did.  It was written on faces. Wind trios and a solo cello spoke to each other, upper and lower strings exchanged volleys of temperaments, violas warned, brass announced tragedy and heroics, antiphonal timpani thundered Nielson’s message into the Hall. Civic got carried away and so did I.

At this meeting of sorts, humanity glowed in a dreamscape, a playground of violinistics, a funereal honoring, a musicscape of life in diminuendo, crescendo, accelerando, ritardando. Civic, Chang, Noya had much to voice.

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).

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