Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2021

REVIEW: Boston Symphony Orchestra , Mazzoli/Tchaikovsky

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
August 8, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Yo-Yo Ma & Karina Canellakis
On March 13, 2021 Yo-Yo Ma gave an imapromptu solo concert at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield after receiving his second Covid vaccine shot there. So it was no surprise that the world’s favorite cellist got a hero’s welcome when he appeared Sunday afternoon before a much larger audience with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Karina Canellakis, making her BSO debut. 

The concert opened with Missy Mazzoli’s imaginative 2014/2016 “Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres),” which the composer describes as “music in the shape of a solar system.” Harmonicas played intermittently by woodwind and brass section members add the earthy tone of the medieval hurdy-gurdy to the 12-minute piece’s overall ethereal sound. Canellakis led the BSO in a radiant account, with subtly shifting colors and a magical electronically-enhanced close.
One of Tanglewood’s most regular and beloved guest artists since 1983, Ma was next featured in Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for cello and orchestra. Besides “The Nutcracker,” playful and light-hearted are not words usually associated with Tchaikovsky, but they perfectly describe this 20-minute 1876 commission for cellist Wilhelm Fitzhagen. Ma captured the elegance of the theme written in the style of Tchaikovsky’s idol Mozart and the virtuosity of the Fitzhagen-amplified variations with unerring poise and finesse.
After hailing “Tanglewood’s own” Canellakis (she was a 2014 TMC conducting fellow), Ma dedicated “to all those we’ve lost” an encore which he called music “of our time and for all time” – one of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s 1973 “Lamentations” for solo cello – and which he rendered with his trademark warmth and soulfulness. 

Canellakis and the orchestra concluded the program with a blazing performance of Tchaikovsky’s tempestuous fourth symphony. From a forceful opening brass fanfare evoking fate, through a mercurial first movement, a flowing “Andantino in modo di canzona,” a high-spirited pizzicato “Scherzo,” to a thrilling “Allegro con fuoco” finale, her flexible tempos and dynamics, along with playing of deep conviction by the BSO, never let the tension slacken. 

The audience’s enthusiasm for the work of two American women who are rising stars (Mazzoli and Canellakis are both forty-ish) suggested that the future of classical music is in good hands.