Above: soloists Baiba Skride (violin), Harriet Krijgh (cello), and Elsbeth Moser (bayan) with Maestro Andris Nelsons and artists of the Boston Symphony Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall during this evening's performance; photo by Richard Termine. Click on the image to enlarge.
Tuesday February 28th, 2017 - This was a thrilling concert in every regard. The Boston Symphony Orchestra sounded magnificent under Andris Nelsons' baton, the brand new Gubaidulina work is an intriguingly dark soundscape (and its three soloists simply fascinating), and an epic performance of the Shostakovich 7th ('Leningrad') brought the evening to a grand conclusion.
Russian-born Sofia Gubaidulina (above), acclaimed as one of the foremost composers in the world today, was encouraged early in her career by Dmitri Shostakovich; thus this evening's program pairing these two works had a special significance. Ms. Gubaidulina was present for tonight's New York premiere of her Triple Concerto. She made her way to the edge of the stage during the applause and affectionately greeted the conductor, soloists, and concertmaster. During the intermission, the composer was besieged by well-wishers visiting her at her aisle seat.
Gubaidulina's Triple Concerto premiered just this past weekend in Boston; the concerto's three soloists (repeating the 'roles' they had just debuted in Boston) were the Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, the Dutch cellist Harriet Krijgh, and Swiss bayanist Elsbeth Moser. Their artistry was a major factor in the work's emphatic success.
The bayan opens the piece mysteriously. The orchestra's deepest voices sound forth in a plunging downward interval - which recurs periodically throughout the piece - echoing the 'dragon' motif of Wagner's RING DES NIBELUNGEN. The cello and then the violin enter in rising phrases. Following an airy bit for piccolo and bells, the three soloists unite over rumblings and a glowering gong.
Snare drum and strings give way to ominous timpani and reverberant gong, with the string voices darkening as each soloist is heard from: high violin buzz, a shivering cello, the doleful bayan. Slithering low strings underscore the conversing violin and cello; the strings then cascade downward as the drum warns. Insectuous buzzings introduce Ms. Moser in a bayan 'cadenza'. Following more Fafneresque threats from the tuba, Ms. Moser's bayan takes on the aspect of an organ.
The gong and trombone are joined, the brass underscore a further bayan passage before the ominous drums are again heard. Shimmering above deep brass, Ms. Skride's silvery tone inspires whilst the tuba offers a counterweight.
Mlles. Skride and Krijgh entwine voices in a plaintive passage, the tuba is joined by lamenting strings. The two string soloists reunite in a passionate, rich-toned passage - the violin rising as the cello descends. Militant drums and the bayan seem to herald a cataclysm. A succession of voices conjure up memories of what has gone before: the gong, cellos and basses united, trombone, piccolo. The three soloists have final statements before the growling basses and tuba mark the start of an acceleration of tempo to a colossal finish.
Texture is everything in this 25-minute work; time and again, the composer melds voices together in unusual, ear-pricking combinations; these layerings of sound are splendidly drawn forth from the BSO's marvelous players - whether by section or in solo phrases - by Maestro Nelsons.
Ms. Gubaidulina's creation held me in a rapt state at every moment - something that (sadly) cannot be said about much of the new music being composed these days. I hope a recording will materialize, and that other other orchestras will perform this work. It would be hard to imagine it, though, without the premiere's trio of soloists.
Above: Andris Nelsons
Shostakovich wrote his 7th Symphony, 'Leningrad', to honor the courage and endurance of the Russian people during the German army's long and horrific siege of that city during World War II. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the symphony's first concert performances in the United States at Tanglewood in August 1942, following the NBC Symphony's radio broadcast premiere under Arturo Toscanini the previous month.
The Adagio opens with dire, organ-like chords. A rich violin tutti sounds despairingly, with a distant reminder of marching troops echoing. A whimsical yet melancholy flute melody transforms into something quite heavenly before the music intensifies, with sorrows seemingly re-doubled.
After a pensive start, a vibrant, energetic theme develops early in the final movement, and wind solos again shine thru. A special passage arises with the violas playing in unison, and then another march motif stirs up: a march that seems to call upon the populace to stand firm. The finale builds, mingling images of mourning and regret for a lost time with a firmness of purpose: a commitment to the survival of Leningrad and its weary populace.
Above: Maestro Nelsons and the BSO players onstage at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Richard Termine.