Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2010

Elgar and Mussorgsky

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
August 1, 2010
by Debra Tinkhim

Renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma stole the show in his solo performance of Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto in E minor.”

Concertgoers waited patiently through Jean Sibelius’ short, three movement “Karelia Suite” in anticipation of Maestro Ma. Before he started, he was welcomed with a standing ovation. The beginning “Adagio” was mesmerizingly eerie, robust and beautiful. For the novice listener, “Schindler’s List” magically wove this theme throughout the movie. Ma’s compassion and artistry were all too touching and guest conductor, Charles Dutoit, with a very impressive background, artfully shared his orchestra and Ma equally.

In all of Elgar’s 79 years, he only composed music for 20 years, becoming reclusive after the death of his wife. He wrote this masterpiece at the age of 62, and conducted it in 1919. It was first performed at Tanglewood in 1969, by the renowned Jacqueline Du Pre. More tragic is that the illness debilitated her at the young age of 28. Ma made his 1712 Stradivarius empower melancholy. Multi-thousands of listeners listened in silent awe to the man who enabled this beautiful piece of machinery.

As Hugh MacDonald, an annotator and speaker for the Boston Symphony Orchestra said, “We discern this Concerto a sentiment of resignation and even of despair generated from within by that strong vein of melancholy that had always been an inescapable element of Elgar’s music…”

Short-lived composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was an innovator of Russian music during the romantic period. His desire was to achieve a unique Russian musical identity, and did so in “Pictures at an Exhibition.” These pictures were written hastily, in order to perform as a tribute for his friend, Victor Hartmann. Mussorgsky, who pictured himself rowing through these 12 pictures, painted a complicated story and each had a plethora of information behind them. They are a good read.