Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 31, 2022

REVIEW: BSO, "Ozawa Hall Concerts"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 21 & 28, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Two recent concerts in the recital series by visiting artists at Tanglewood illustrate the vast range of programming offered in this intimate venue.
The first, “Music from Copland House,” featured members of the touring ensemble based at Aaron Copland’s historic home in upstate New York and opened with Pierre Jalbert’s “Crossings,” a 2011 work they commissioned from the Canadian-American composer. A 15-minute meditation on migration for five instruments, its adventurous, sometimes agitated, deconstruction of the French-Canadian folk song “When I Left Canada” was especially well rendered by violinist Suliman Tekalli and flutist Carol Wincenc. The unusually spiky rhythms of Copland’s own three-movement 1937 sextet were particularly well served by clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and pianist (and Copland House artistic and executive director) Michael Boriskin. 

Susan Graham
The major work on this program was the 75-minute 2020 song cycle “Standing Witness,” with music by American composer Richard Danielpour and words by African-American poet Rita Dove, commissioned by a consortium including the Boston Symphony Orchestra for mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Music from Copland House. In a lively pre-concert conversation, Danielpour and Dove recounted the “amazing synchronicity” of their remote mid-pandemic collaboration in writing thirteen “testimonies” on milestones in American history since 1968. 

The appealing score drew inspiration from Mahler, rock, and Bernstein, while the wide-ranging text included a chorus shouted by several players during the third testimony, about Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam draft refusal. Except for the tenth testimony (an “instrumental elegy” for 9/11 and the Iraq War, with a heartrending solo by cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach), and including a prologue and epilogue, Graham sang fourteen selections, while standing heroically still as Lady Liberty, with her customary vocal elegance, emotional warmth, and charismatic stage presence. 

The second concert presented a typically eclectic program by the Silkroad Ensemble, founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to promote cross-cultural exchange as modeled by the historical Silk Road trade route of Central Asia. Their new artistic director, Rhiannon Giddens, added multiple American flavors to the group’s international roots. Highlights were: a thunderous “Ho-oh,” by Kaoru Watanabe on Japanese flute and percussion; a sweeping “Walk Alone,” by Sandeep Das on tabla, with the versatile Giddens singing lyrics by Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali; and her own Juneteenth homage to African-American resilience, “Build a House,” in which surprise guest Ma accompanied Giddens’ voice and banjo on cello.

Coming attractions at Ozawa Hall include: the annual “Festival of Contemporary Music” (August 4-8), featuring Tanglewood Music Center fellows; and four concerts of Brahms’ complete solo piano music by Garrick Ohlsson (August 16, 18, 23, and 25).