Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2023

REVIEW: Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra: "Festival of Contemporary Music & More"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 23 & 31, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

TMC conducting fellows Armand Birk, from Canada, and Agata Zajac, from Poland, shared conducting duties at these concerts with BSO guest conductor Xian Zhang (July 23) and TMC Head of Conducting Stefan Asbury (July 31). The latter was also the closing event in the TMC’s 2023 Festival of Contemporary Music and featured music by all four co-curators of this year’s Festival: Reena Esmail; Gabriela Lena Frank; Tebogo Monnakgotla; and Anna Thorvaldsdottir. 

To open the first concert, Zajac directed a fiery account of Richard Strauss’s 1889 tone poem “Don Juan,” from an exhilarating start to a more measured and somber conclusion. She brought visionary clarity to the Festival performance she led of Thorvaldsdottir’s 2018 “Metacosmos,” an alternately mystical and rhythmic exploration of “falling into a black hole – the unknown,” in the composer’s words, which also evoked the timeless landscape of her native Iceland. 

Photo by Hilary Scott
Birks conducted similarly challenging works for voices and orchestra in both concerts with flair
and sensitivity. On July 23, Frank’s Latin-flavored 2010 cycle “La centinela y la paloma” (“The Keeper and the Dove”) about the death of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, with Spanish texts by Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, showcased TCM sopranos Bridget Esler and Yvonne Trobe, both fearlessly dramatic in the two songs each sang. On July 31, Monnakgotla’s evocative 2018 cycle “Un Clin d’oeil” (A Wink of an Eye”) presented TCM baritones Rolfe Dauz and Kevin Douglas Jasaitis, each vibrantly expressive in French texts by Madagascar poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo. 

Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, closed the first concert with an electrifying rendition of Sergei Prokofiev’s rarely heard but richly rewarding 1948 sixth symphony. Asbury opened the later concert with a lush reading of Esmail’s 2021 “RE/member,” which began with a short video of TMC oboist Elias Medina playing alone, later replayed over his live performance with the TMCO in post-pandemic reunion after separation. Asbury ended the concert with a rollicking account of Frank’s 2017 “Walkabout: Concerto for Orchestra,” whose four widely varied movements reflect the Peruvian part of her multiethnic heritage and which the TMCO played with contagious joy.
Remaining TMCO concerts in Ozawa Hall at 8pm will pair TMC conducting fellows with BSO guest conductors Dima Slobodeniouk (August 7) and Dame Jane Glover (August 14).