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Leslie Kandell's Tanglewood notes
by Leslie Kandell

Tanglewood notes

A Daily Gazette arts blog
Leslie Kandell covers music in the Berkshires

Tanglewood countdown to Andris Nelsons

In photos: (top) Rob Fisher and Renee Fleming during opening night of the BSO season at Tanglewood; (bottom) Renee Fleming and William Eddins during opening night. (Hilary Scott photos)

Tanglewood has been bustling for a week, with “this ‘n’ that” activities that lead up to official opening concerts. But this year’s opening weekend -- with music director, buzz, gala receptions -- won’t happen till next weekend, when Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony’s music director-designate, makes his grand entrance. Last weekend was part of an interesting vamp, as his Friday arrival approaches.

July 4 featured James Taylor, fireworks and Hurricane Arthur, not necessarily in that order. In the second of Taylor’s consecutive wet concerts, the rain stopped and cars filled the parking lots -- in the back lot they were lined up down to the lake. (The damp lawn was apparently no deterrent to listeners.)

Half of the next evening’s intriguing mix was showy short works by high-minded American composers, under the baton of William Eddins. The second half was bedrock show tunes under Rob Fisher. Soprano Renee Fleming queened it over numbers in both halves -- not clearing the room of course, but not stopping the show either.

Eddins, the exuberant, confident conductor of the Edmonton Symphony, first led Joseph Schwantner”s “Freeflight” (a Boston Pops commission), a movement from “Music for a Great City” by Copland (big Tanglewood figure), the exciting “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams, and Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” Barber’s luxuriant floating style is right for Fleming’s voice, calling to mind her Metropolitan Opera mega-hit, “Song to the Moon.”

Rob Fisher is a sensible, respected conductor, steeped in musical theater; it might have been better if his half had been purely orchestral. Fleming’s renditions of the likes of “Wonderful Guy,” “Hello Young Lovers” and (for Pete sake) “Summertime,” were overworked and over-decorated, with nanoseconds of bellow or yowl, plus a few irrelevant high notes thrown in. Most Americans know every note of this repertoire, and though Fleming has been mining it since her Potsdam college days, she barely got away with it Saturday.

Sunday’s program was straight-down-the-middle Tanglewood. It began with the accomplished, supremely stable pianist Garrick Ohlsson in what felt like the world’s slowest slog-through of the Brahms Concerto No. 2. Surprise! (Get me outta here, Charlie Brown!) Picking up speed, it arrived at the end with much of the requisite drive and punch.

Asher Fisch, from Israel, is principal guest conductor of the Seattle Opera, and Liszt’s “Les Preludes” swaggered operatically, as did selections from Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” But telltale light traffic suggested a listless audience.

OK next weekend, bring on the new director. The BSO world is ready.

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