Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons

Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons is the new director of the BSO.  This week Kirsten and I heard a program of Beethoven (8th Symphony), Bartok (“The Miraculous Mandarin”, Opus 19) and Tchaikovsky (“Pathetique”) with Nelsons directing.

The Beethoven was a big, bold swirl. Nelsons leaned back with his left hand on the rail of the conductor’s platform as if he was having a conversation on his neighbor’s deck.  Sometimes he seemed to gather the music of Beethoven out of the air of the great hall, with both hands.

The piece by Bartok was a pantomime composed for the theatre.  It tells the story of a robbery scheme in a brothel involving  a mysterious, exotic “mandarin” victim, with sounds of struggle and violence and passion from the low streets of an old European city.

Finally there was the Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 6, first presented by the composer a few days before his death in 1893. Tchaikovsky wrote “The program of this symphony is completely saturated with myself and quite often during my journey I cried profusely.” The music sweeps with deep memory and dear feelings of childhood, among other things until, in the final movement, all memory fails and darkness from the low bass instruments fades into a profound silence, which Nelsons held for a long, deadening moment, much longer than one would have expected.

I was struck by the old European arrangement of the symphony concert, with the composer, musicians, conductor, hall and audience all playing their part: the composer with his creation; the players with the music the composer created in front of their eyes and in their bodies and in their instruments; the conductor with the music in his expressive body, channeling without sound the complex sounds of the music to the musicians and to the audience; the audience, sitting in rapt silence and royal stillness in the elegant hall, taking in with our eyes the performers on stage as they present the wonder of human creativity and cooperation known as the symphony.

Andris Nelsons brings the Concertgebouw to Vienna

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