Bernstein with conductor Serge Koussevitzky after performance of The Age of Anxiety, symphony No. 2 at Tanglewood, August 11, 1949. (Credit: Howard S. Babbit, via Library of Congress, Music Division)

Friday, July 8, 2022

Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Guest Reviewer, David M. Rice

To begin, Andris Nelsons led a sensitive rendition of Opening Prayer, composed by Leonard Bernstein for the 1986 first-night of the renovated Carnegie Hall. After fine solos on trumpet, oboe, harp and bassoon, and a sweetly lyrical melody on the strings, baritone Jack Canfield richly intoned – in Hebrew – the threefold priestly benediction from Numbers 6:24-26, punctuated by interjections from the harp. The performance ended gloriously with Canfield holding the high final note, on the word “Shalom” (Peace), for what seemed an eternity as the trumpet softly recalled the fanfare that had begun the work.

Then a change,, allowing Yuja Wang a bravura performance, showing off her brilliant technique. She attacked the keyboard with plenty of power, yet her agile fingers often moved so rapidly that they literally became a blur. Nelsons and the BSO launched the Concerto with a forceful declaration of the pervasive principal motif and contributed strong tuttis throughout. Although at times Wang rushed through scales and runs, she struck a more contemplative mood in the Quasi adagio, left-hand arpeggios subtly balanced beneath the exquisite melody. The Allegretto vivace, heralded by a triangle, was delightfully playful, and the Finale’s variations on a jaunty march tune gave Wang ample opportunities: trading fanfares with the brass, playing sparkling figures accompanied by pizzicatos, and juxtaposing dazzling pyrotechnics with the orchestra’s melodic line. Wang’s encore was spectacular: Vladimir Horowitz’s Variations on a Theme from Carmen.

Following intermission, Nelsons led a powerful account of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The opening bassoon solo was gorgeous, the winds all excelled in the ensuing passages, and Nelsons ably directed the wildly irregular rhythms. The beauty of the sounds led me to wonder whether I had heard this work so many times that it no longer had the ability to shock. That thought was short-lived, however, as Nelsons brought the music back to a raw, cutting edge, and J. William Hudgins was particularly brilliant in generating an incredible variety of timbres from a bass drum, providing critical driving force to propel the music, jolting it out of complacency time and time again. Other noteworthy contributions included heartrending throbbing from the second violins and violas, exclamations from bass and E-flat clarinets, and outbursts from the brass. Nelsons’s carefully managed chaos was at its most effective toward the finish, depicting the sacrificial virgin dancing herself to death.