Saturday, February 9, 2008

BSO at Symphony Hall

A delightful Boston Symphony Orchestra program at Symphony Hall on Saturday night (2/9/2008):

FRANK MARTIN (Swiss, 1890-1974): Petite symphonie concertante, for harp, piano, harpsichord, and double string orchestra (1946)

SERGE PROKOFIEV (Russian, 1891-1953): Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Opus 19 (1923)

CAMILLE SAINT-SA√čNS (French, 1835-1921): Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 78, "Organ Symphony"

Charles Dutoit conductor

Ann Hobson Pilot harp
Randall Hodgkinson piano
Mark Kroll harpsichord

Viviane Hagner violin

James David Christie organ

The Martin piece opening the program was new to me - an exploration of what can be done with strings: plucked by a harpist, struck by a pianist, plucked by a harpsichordist, bowed by a solo violinist (or viola, cello, bass), or pizzacoto. Some familar lush sounds, but also some unusual interplays, rhythmic effects and tone colors. I would have been hard pressed to guess the year this piece was written - clearly modern in tonality, but at the same time more familiar. All created with strings alone - no woodwinds, percussion or horns.

The Prokofiev violin concerto was also unfamiliar to me, although the program notes tell of frequent BSO performances since the BSO gave the US premier in 1925 with soloist Richard Burgin, Serge Koussevitzky conducting. Gypsy-like at times, now the solo violin has its usual support from orchestral strings and woodwinds, brass, percussion and harp. Some passages where the soloist and harpist played together were reminiscent of the previous (Martin) piece.

Photo from Boston Globe (2/92008): Charles Dutoit conducts violinist Viviane Hagner, making her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 at Symphony Hall last night. (Michael J. Lutch)

The Saint-Saens Symphony - what a great chance to hear the magnificent Aeolian-Skinner organ, in this unusual two-movement symphony. The organ enters stealthily in the first movement, with some tones so low you feel that you can count the vibrations/second on your fingers. You can certainly feel them come through the air and floor of the hall, even in the far corner of the 2nd balcony. The second movement especially brings some familiar themes. This time the organ has a dramatic entrance with a huge chord. Definately not an organ concerto, rather the organ is presented more like another instrument of the orchestra, although with a huge range of pitch and color.

When I lived near Philadelphia, I remember seeing Charles Dutoit conduct summer concerts at the outdoor "Mann Center" which overlooked the Philly skyline. Some nights were very hot, and he labored in the heat. I always felt he had an exceptionally clear beat, and would be a conductor that musicians would like playing under - clear but poetic and exciting.

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