A week filled with new music at Tanglewood

LENOX, Mass. — To honor its 75th anniversary, Tanglewood Music Center broke the bank, commissioning

LENOX, Mass. — To honor its 75th anniversary, Tanglewood Music Center broke the bank, commissioning a whopping 32 pieces to be threaded through its summer concerts. At this year’s Festival of Contemporary Music, when the international students of the orchestra played in Seiji Ozawa Hall under miracle-worker Stefan Asbury and other faculty members, premiere presentations reached critical mass, dominating entire concerts.

The new works are by former faculty members and fellows. Monday’s successful opening concert was highlighted by “Tanglewood Concerto” from Robert Zuidam from the Netherlands; the piano part was played with consummate skill and commitment by Emanuel Ax and the piece was deservedly met with enthusiasm.

The concerto came from Zuidam’s recollections: a pianist fleeing in horror from a rehearsal of new music, moonlight chats on the porch of Seranak, Serge Koussevitzky’s hillside home, and a ride from composer Lukas Foss, a notoriously bad driver and, with Leonard Bernstein, a member of the first Tanglewood class.

Ax played the first movement’s plunging, soaring piano arpeggios with the crystalline style heard on Saturday when he performed Mozart with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. It’s hard to imagine a better apologist for Zuidam’s concerto, which should be heard again.

Thursday’s concert featured fellows, BSO members and guests. Conspicuously absent were beloved British conductor Oliver Knussen, who ran into visa problems, and Gunther Schuller, revered composer, conductor and longtime TMC director, who died in June. Schuller’s short, episodic “Magical Trumpets,” composed for this occasion (that he did not live to see), called for 12 trumpets of varied sizes. He drew from wide influences, jazz and blues not the least. It was loud fun, and will fit into concerts as an opener.

The elegant, fastidious works of George Perle, a committed Tanglewood faculty member who died in 1996, are from an era when the 12-tone system ruled. Perle’s music used that system without making it sound atonal, and time makes it steadily more appealing. “Critical Moments,” as cryptic as Perle himself was, had confident precision and full tone from the most accomplished TMC fellows — called The New Fromm Players — several of whom have gone straight into the BSO.

The premiere of “Megalith,” for piano and 15 instruments, shows Charles Wuorinen maybe isn’t still crazy after all these years, but still doing what he wants after all these years, with 20 minutes of thorny, brittle figments. Pianist Peter Serkin, also known for doing what he wants, gave a fascinating reading, as in one or another way he always does.

Friday afternoon was devoted to small works with words. The most unusual approach was in “Here of Most Amazing Now,” a conductorless chamber work by Gerald Levinson, with players taking turns intoning choppy, haiku-like sentences, which were followed by instrumental passages.

Saturday afternoon Ozawa Hall was again full of buzzing prestigious musicians and dazzled (or perplexed) summer residents.

The premiere in the first half was “Carroll in Numberland,” by the intriguing, mercurial faculty member Michael Gandolfi, whose output ranges from spectacular to needs-do-over.

The cute charming Alice in Wonderland in-joke, led by Dawn Upshaw, was somewhere in between.

More from the 20th and 21st century will be performed at 10 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Monday, when everyone can be a critic.

Categories: Entertainment

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