The keynote event of our trip to the Berkshires was a Sunday-afternoon concert at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons conducting. Now this is the way to hear music. I had only been to Tanglewood once before, decades ago, sitting on the grass out in front of the music shed, and that was great.
Here’s Allysen, standing in front of the shed. The crowd was just beginning to gather.
This time, I decided that I was a grownup and it was time to spring for seats inside the shed, where I could see the orchestra. It was fabulous. (Although I still couldn’t see the wind instruments, which were completely hidden behind the strings, which frustrated me a little.)
The program included Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Opus 34, No. 14, as well as his Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 44. I say that as if I know something about it, but I’m just telling you what the program says. Sandwiched between the Rachmaninoff works was a premier performance of a contemporary-classical piece by Helen Grime: Trumpet Concerto, night-sky-blue, featuring Håkan Hardenberger on trumpet. I should note that the Rachmaninoff symphony featured virtuoso tweeting by birds in the rafters of the shed. They seemed totally in touch with the feeling of the final movement. Bravo!
Now, I have about as much business reviewing classical music as Fred Flintstone has reviewing one of my books. But should I let that stop me? As a point of reference, I might note that my absolute favorite orchestral works are Dvorak’s New World Symphony, John Williams’ various themes from Star Wars and Close Encounters, and Richard Rogers’ themes from Victory at Sea.
My favorite of this BSO performance was Vocalise. I can’t say why, just that it was lush and lyrical and swept me along. I need to find a recording of it to listen to again.
The Helen Grime concerto was…interesting. Cerebral, often dissonant, many musical voices speaking at once. The trumpet part was extraordinary in the playing ability demonstrated, but not exactly something to make me hum inside my head. I wanted to like it. I was excited to see a young composer have a new work premiered by the BSO; I felt I was in on something special. And yet… if there were melodies or themes, I was unable to pick them out. It was written during the pandemic, and it felt chaotic in a way that reflected that birthing. It felt like Stravinsky drenched in Jackson Pollock. No doubt this is my lack of understanding of classical music speaking.
The Rachmaninoff symphony began with an exquisite thread of clarinet and/or oboe, then segued into energetic full orchestral motion. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and I frankly couldn’t follow the musical themes for long, although there were passages I found quite beautiful. Unlike my reaction to the Grime, I was aware of the orchestra working together to craft themes I could hear, even if only for a few moments at a time, even if I didn’t follow where they were going. I want to listen to this again, also, though I doubt that any recording will feature the chirping of the birds nearly as effectively as in this performance.
All in all, it was a gratifying conclusion to the weekend. We now return to our regularly scheduled dimension.