Celebrating Leonard Bernstein

September 22, 2017

in Concerts


Opening Night at Symphony
All-Bernstein Program
Celebrating Leonard Bernstein

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Boston
September 22, 2017

Andris Nelsons, Conductor

Elizabeth Rowe, flute
Frederica Von Stade, mezzo-soprano and host
Julia Bullock, soprano
Members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus – James Burton, Conductor

Divertimento for Orchestra (1980)

Halil, Nocturne for solo flute With piccolo, solo flute, percussion, harp, and strings (1981)
Elizabeth Rowe, flute

A Julia de Burgos from Songfest (1977)
Piccola Serenata, arranged for Chamber Orchetra by Sid Ramin (1979)
A Little Bit In Love from Wonderful Town (1953)
Julia Bullock, soprano

I Am Easily Assimilated (Old Lady’s Tango) from Candide (1958)
Lyrics by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano
Members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus

It Must Be So from Candide
Julia Bullock, soprano

Neverland from Peter Pan (1950)
Lyrics by Leonard Bernstein
Julia Bullock, soprano
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960)

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein
Photo: Courtesy of Brandeis University

A wonderful, lively tribute to Leonard Bernstein as composer kicks off the season celebrating the centennial of his birth.

Leonard Bernstein would have been 100 in 2018 and this season opener by the BSO pays dutiful anticipatory homage to Bernstein by presenting a series of shorter works from different corners of his repertory.

Andris Nelsons, now in his fourth year as music director of the BSO, is frequently very adept at managing tight technical interlacings, but, in this case, not always as evident in the past, was also in extremely good lyrical form.

With a robustness of line and spirit, Nelsons managed to lead the orchestra and vocalists in a way that was not only technically expert but invigorating and inspiring as well. It’s a nice development at the downbeat of a new season for a conductor who has demonstrated a technical capacity that has not always been accompanied by equally passionate results. But this night that passion, along with technical command, were in clear evidence.

The Divertimento for Orchestra (1980) opened the evening, with eight relatively short segments following upon one another in quick succession. This quite dazzling little piece offers a lot of gusto in each section, ranging from jazzy to Latino to brassy and with a lot of variation packed into one small spot and Nelsons and orchestra did a fine job of conveying that energy and lyricism with an invigorating result.

Halil, Nocturne for Solo Flute with Piccolo, Alto Flute, Percussion, Hap and Strings (1981) featuring principal flutist of the BSO Elizabeth Rowe as soloist, is mellow, atmospheric, sweet, and textural rather than musically dramatic. Though Rowe is an excellent flutist, this reflective work did not particularly show off her technical skills, except in a few cadenza spots where she provided some strikingly effective tonal flutterings. Overall the piece, dedicated to the memory of a young promising Israeli flutist, Yadin Tenenbaum, who was killed in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, provided a quietly transitional moment with tonally subtle effects.

The three songs that followed with soprano Julia Bullock were striking and outstanding. Bullock is, in a word, an incredible singer. Her soprano is deeply rich, every note pouring out with a honeyed warmth.

A Little Bit in Love from Wonderful Town was just terrific with that combination of operatic csophistication and jaziness that maes terrific and musical renditions of Bernstein’s pop output so wonderful. New York Festival of Song offers this kind of combination of sheer musicality and popular appeal on a regular basis. Bullock and the BSO here seemed to fit that mold as well to pefrection.

Frederica von Stade, a highly noted but now mature soprano, served as an emcee for part of the evening, but joined in musically at this point to sing I Am Easily Assimilated, the great comic Calypso number from Candide, joined by a good number of members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus all decked out in Latin American party garb. Von Stade and the hilarious but sonorous chorus pulled it off charmingly, though one noted the differences between this adept but aging voice and that of Bullock.

Julia Bullock

Julia Bullock
Photo: Courtesy of Young Concert Artists, Inc.

Bullock sang It Must Be So, a richly serious entry from Candide, with continuing tonally passionate depth, and Bullock and von Stade finished the choral section with a duo from Peter Pan (1950) which came off warmly and delightfully.

The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960) finished the evening. Though eminently familiar, Nelsons and the orchestra gave them their all and rendered a fine and persuasive result. Energy poured from the stage, and though one might well be aware that Bernstein felt that this reputation for serious composition never really attained its fullness, his concrete legacy in works such as this is a clear emblem of his major contributions both to the symphonic repertory and to serious American popular music. Nelsons and the BSO delivered both the technical superlatives of that accomplishment along with the energetic and inspired feeling that it so vividly embodies.

– BADMan

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