Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 15, 2023

REVIEW: Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, "Two Concerts, Four Conductors"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
August 7 & 14, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

The two latest TMCO concerts offered, among other pleasures, an object lesson in four different styles of leading an orchestra. 

Agata Zayca photo by Hilary Scott
Polish TMC conducting fellow Agata Zajac opened the August 7 concert with a daringly dark interpretation of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 1909 symphonic poem “The Isle of the Dead,” inspired by Arnold Bocklin’s painting of a coffin being rowed to a small island. The TMCO conveyed the nostalgic theme of life, the shattering climax of grief, and the mournful rocking of the boat with feverish intensity. Zajac brought similar range a week later to Antonin Dvorak’s 1897 tone poem “Wood Dove.” The TMCO rendered every twist in this grim Czech folktale (a wife poisons her husband, happily marries another, then kills herself from remorse) with vivid conviction. 

Zajac’s Canadian counterpart, Armand Birks, led Maurice Ravel’s beloved 1928 “Bolero” with sinuous flair on August 7. The TMCO luxuriated in this “long, very gradual crescendo” (Ravel’s description) with obvious enjoyment. A week later Birks found atmospheric and emotional resonance in the “Four Sea Interludes” for orchestra from Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera “Peter Grimes,” about an outcast fisherman in 19th-century England. Most notable were a haunting “Moonlight” and an impassioned closing “Storm.”
Internationally acclaimed Russian-born conductor Dima Slobodeniouk closed the first concert with an exhilarating performance of Jean Sibelius’s 1902 second symphony. The conductor’s training and experience in the composer’s native Finland seemed to infuse a restless “Allegretto,” defiant “Tempo Andante, ma rubato,” headlong “Vivacissimo,” and stirring “Finale: Allegro moderato.”
British conductor and musicologist Dame Jane Glover closed the second concert with a similarly inspired account of Johannes Brahms’s 1877 second symphony. Though considered his sunniest symphony, Glover and the TMCO discovered melancholy undercurrents in the first two movements, a flowing “Allegro non troppo” and a tender “Adagio non troppo,” but only joy in a buoyant “Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andantino)” and an ecstatic “Allegro con spirito.”
Slobodeniouk and Zayac are full-body conductors, who move around the podium and often bend their legs or even jump (think Leonard Bernstein). Glover and Birks are more restrained in their movements, using mainly their arms and batons for communication. All make eloquent use of facial expressions to convey their wishes, and all show outstanding rapport with their musicians. At Tanglewood, the legacy and future of classical music looks secure.