Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2023

REVIEW: Boston Symphony Orchestra: "Reid/Paganini/Prokofiev"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 30, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

For the final concert of her tenure as BSO Assistant Conductor, Anna Rakitina led an appealingly eclectic program of music across three centuries by composers from three different cultures, including her own Ukrainian-Russian heritage, in the Koussevitzky Music Shed on a glorious summer afternoon. 

She opened with Tennessee native Ellen Reid’s 2019 piece “When the World as You’ve
Known It Doesn’t Exist.” While commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, Reid says it’s “about unabashedly presenting my artistic voice.” The colorful score moves from “disembodied questioning…through waves of blazing anger…toward something close to acceptance.” Rakitina directed a hauntingly forceful account of the ten-minute showpiece, with sopranos Eliza Bagg, Martha Cluver, and Sonja Dutoit Tengblad adding eerie wordless vocal tones. 

Photo by Hilary Scott
Internationally acclaimed violinist and frequent Tanglewood guest Joshua Bell next soloed in a brilliant reading of Italian superstar violinist-composer Nicolo Paganini’s 1816 first violin concerto, one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire. Its three grandly orchestrated movements are full of virtuoso tricks, all of which Bell dispatched with aplomb. The astoundingly difficult cadenza, or solo passage, near the end of the first movement, which Bell wrote himself and Paganini usually improvised, stopped the performance with a standing ovation. Rakitina and the orchestra supported Bell’s dazzling showmanship in the opening “Allegro maestoso” and the “Rondo: Allegro spiritoso” finale and his serene lyricism in the central “Adagio” with equal flair. 

The concert ended with a thrilling 40-minute suite of ten excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” among the most inspired and heartfelt music the Ukrainian-born Russian composer ever wrote. Drawn from all three orchestral suites prepared by Prokofiev, the order of Rakitina’s selections followed the action of Shakespeare’s play. Sumptuous playing of deep conviction by all sections of the large ensemble revealed the music’s many contrasting moods, like: dark, violent foreboding in “Montagues and Capulets;” ecstatic fervor in the “Balcony Scene;” and boundless compassion in the closing “Death of Juliet.”  
The strong rapport Rakitina has clearly built over the past few years with BSO musicians and audiences, her imaginative programming skills, and her engaging stage presence would make this rising international star a welcome guest conductor in future BSO/Tanglewood seasons.