Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 19, 2023

REVIEW: BSO: "Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 10 & 17, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Every summer over a hundred young musicians at the start of their careers, from across the country and beyond, converge for eight weeks at Tanglewood, where, tutored by Boston Symphony Orchestra members and visiting artists, they quickly sound like they’ve been playing together for years. The first two concerts by the 2023 TMCO richly confirmed the success of this training model.     

Conducting duties were shared at both concerts by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons and TMC conducting fellows Armand Birk, from Canada, and Agata Zajac, from Poland. Nelsons opened the first program with a perky account of Maurice Ravel’s 1918 orchestration of his 1905 piano piece “Alborada del Gracioso” (“Morning Song of the Jester”). He closed it with a dramatic reading of Claude Debussy’s 1905 three symphonic sketches “La Mer” (“The Sea”). 

Photo by Hilary Scott
Completing the program’s first half, Zajac led a taut, incisive performance of Igor Stravinsky’s rarely heard 1936 ballet “in three deals” “Jeu de Cartes” (“Game of Cards”) with graceful precision. To open its second half, Birks brought a softer, more sensuous touch to the colorful five-movement suite from Ravel’s 1911 ballet “Mother Goose.” The student musicians fully earned Nelsons’ opening words of high praise for their professional skill.     

Zajac began the second concert with a fiery account of her countrywoman Grazyna
Bacewicz’s defiant 1943 “Overture, for orchestra,” whose quotation of the four notes that open Beethoven’s fifth symphony seemed to cry out for an end to the war then ravaging her homeland. Birks next led an alternately tender and boisterous rendition of the kaleidoscopic orchestral suite from Zoltan Kodaly’s folk-based 1926 opera “Hary Janos.” Boston-based former TMC fellow Nicholas Tolle played an evocative cimbalom, a Hungarian version of a hammered dulcimer. 

Nelsons closed the program with a magical reading of Gustav Mahler’s 1901 fourth, and gentlest, symphony. The first movement, marked “unhurried,” with jaunty opening sleigh bells, was fluid and flexible; the second, marked “easygoing,” showcased virtuosic “country” fiddle playing by concertmaster Dominik Kossakowski; the third, marked “serene,” was ravishingly long-breathed, with a thunderous climax; and the finale, marked “comfortable,” featured the angelic soprano of TMC vocal fellow Eva Rae Martinez, exuding youthful ardor in the childlike German folk poem “Life in Heaven.” 

Upcoming TMCO concerts in Ozawa Hall at 8pm will pair TMC conducting fellows with BSO guest conductor Xian Zhang (July 23) and TMC Conducting Program Head Stefan Asbury (July 31).