This weekend’s program from Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra has as its theme . . . properly, it’s onerous to detect one, until it’s the letter “S”. James Lee III’s Sukkot By means of Orion’s Nebula is adopted by Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, for piano, trumpet and strings, with Yuja Wang and Thomas Rolfs, after which three excerpts from Smetana’s Má vlast (“My Homeland”). Even without thematic glue, the troika made for a satisfying invoice. Sukkot By means of Orion’s Nebula obtained its BSO premiere Thursday, and the opposite two pieces aren’t heard typically enough — that is just the sixth time the BSO has completed the Shostakovich, and the primary for Má vlast since 2007.
Lee, a former Composition Fellow at Tanglewood who’s additionally a Seventh-Day Adventist, acquired the evening off to a jubilant start together with his Guide of Revelation inspiration. Commissioned by the Sphinx Organization of Detroit and premiered by Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony in Miami Seashore in 2011, Sukkot by way of Orion’s Nebula masses its 10 minutes with a fair bit of background. Sukkot, or the Pageant of Tabernacles, is a week-long Jewish celebration talked about in Exodus as a harvest pageant and in Leviticus as a commemoration of the Exodus; in John 7, Jesus goes to the Pageant of the Tabernacles. The constellation Orion is talked about 3 times within the Hebrew Bible; to some, Revelation four means that the throne of God is in the Orion Nebula (situated just south of Orion’s belt).
In any case, Lee is drawing on Revelation, on the harvesting of the earth by a sickle-wielding angel in chapter 14, and on the next coming of the New Jerusalem. In his in depth essay, he explains that “the work is loosely constructed in a ternary form of seven small sections.” We’re meant to listen to “reminiscences of the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)” in the snare and bass drums, after which the French horns imitating the decision of the shofar. God’s creation is greeted with dancing, after which the Messiah descends from Orion Nebula adopted by the New Jerusalem. The shofar theme is heard again, and the celebration rises to a call-and-response climax.
I’m unsure how a lot of all that an audience armed with just the title — which is how I first listened to Sukkot Via Orion’s Nebula — would have the ability to make out. The initial pounding of the bass drum recollects the 11 thunderbolts that introduce “The Glorification of the Chosen One” in The Rite of Spring; the shofar horns, once they enter, seem an Annunciation. After some 90 seconds, the awe and dread make room for some rhythmic, festive bustling. Three and a half minutes in, the tempo slows, the feel lightens and grows starry, and we’re invited to contemplate the heavens. The third part begins at the 7:30 mark: the shofar and the bass drum re-enter and the celebration will get raucous.
Nelsons’s interpretation was raucous from the start, as if all Creation have been anticipating the Second Coming. The brass made the shofar calls virtually scary; the trio of marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone had ample room to play. The central part was celestial because of harp and celesta; the closing pages reveled in ecstasy, as if each saint and angel had his or her own instrument. I detected further tiny echoes of Stravinsky’s Rite, they usually appeared applicable as allusions from one spiritual work to another.
Sukkot By means of Orion’s Nebula was better acquired than many modern pieces, however it was the entrance of the composer himself that introduced the audience to its ft, after which he was referred to as again for a second bow. It may well’t be typically that an African-American composer will get to take bows on the Symphony Corridor stage. These have been nicely deserved, and I hope we hear the piece once more soon.
Shostakovich composed his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1933, within the wake of profitable pieces that included the ballet scores The Bolt and The Golden Age, incidental music for Hamlet, the opera Woman Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, and the 24 Preludes for Piano. It began out, the composer later stated, as a trumpet concerto; he added piano and ultimately it advanced right into a piano concerto with trumpet. Shostakovich himself was the piano soloist on the premiere, which was given with the Leningrad Philharmonic in October 1933.
The composer’s confidence is palpable all through the four actions: Allegretto–Allegro vivace; Lento; Moderato; Allegro con brio. He starts off by alluding to Beethoven’s Appassionata piano sonata, and he retains you off stability throughout with quotations. Some will probably be familiar, just like the trumpet’s suggestion of the “Lone Ranger” conclusion to Rossini’s William Tell Overture (Shostakovich returns to that overture in his 15th Symphony) and the hints of Beethoven’s “Rage over a Misplaced Penny” rondo-caprice (which ultimately becomes the cadenza of the concerto’s finale). References to Haydn’s D-major piano sonata, or to the composer’s personal Hamlet and Golden Age scores, perhaps not a lot. In any case, you by no means quite know what to anticipate from music that turns from critical to sarcastic in a heartbeat. The first motion is a mixture rondo and sonata type and the second a sluggish waltz with an intense central part. The third begins rhapsodically, and simply as you’re wondering the place the composer goes, it evaporates, after a mere 100 seconds, into the maniacally comedian finale. The whole thing is Shostakovich’s whole world in underneath 25 minutes.
I didn’t fairly hear his whole world in Thursday’s efficiency. Right from that preliminary Appassionata quote Wang’s strategy seemed uninflected. The Allegro vivace second topic sped by in a blur; the music-box Lento sounded wistful with out heartbreak; the Allegro con brio finale introduced a variety of pounding. I was stunned to see BSO principal trumpet Thomas Rolfs sitting in the midst of the stage and not alongside Wang, the place his refined tone and poetic phrasing may need been heard to raised impact. Nelsons, for his half, stored the accompaniment compact.
It was all only a slight disappointment after the thought-about Schumann concerto Wang and Nelsons gave us again in February. Nelsons’s hands-off strategy, which has worked so nicely in the Shostakovich symphonies, didn’t present to advantage here, and Wang seemed caught up within the piece as a pianistic showcase. She played as fabulously as ever, and Rolfs produced many melting moments, notably in the loopy second episode of the finale, where the trumpeter appears to have rejoined the proceedings after a quick one at his native. General, although, I heard an excessive amount of madcap mania and never enough sorrow or witty music-hall parody.
Even the inevitable encore — certainly one of Wang’s common decisions, the Artwork Tatum model of “Tea for Two” — felt chaste. The irony is that there’s also a Shostakovich “Tea for Two.” In 1927, on a guess, the composer re-orchestrated the 1924 music in underneath an hour, and the end result is filled with affectionate sly humor. Too dangerous the BSO couldn’t have followed Wang’s encore with certainly one of its own.
Smetana composed Má vlast, a set of six symphonic poems, between 1874 and 1879 as a celebration of his Bohemian homeland. Vyšehrad focuses on the Prague fortress that was the seat of the earliest Czech kings. Vltava (better generally known as The Moldau, after the German identify) pays tribute to the good river that runs via Prague. Šárka commemorates a female warrior of Czech legend. Z českých luhů a hájů (“From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests”) depicts the Czech countryside. Tábor takes us to the stronghold that the pre-Protestant Hussites based in southern Bohemia, and Blaník is known as for the nearby mountain where sleeps a military of knights headed by St. Wenceslas that may, in time to wish, awake to assist the Czech individuals.
The complete cycle runs some 75 minutes, so it was by no means going to fit on this program. And although, aside from Vltava, recording normally supply the set complete, Smetana meant each bit to face by itself. For these performances, Nelsons has chosen Vltava, Z českých luhů a hájů, and Blaník. It’s a good choice provided that Vltava and Z českých luhů a hájů are the preferred of the set and Blaník rounds off the cycle. We do lose some thematic connections. The four-note Vyšehrad motif that starts the cycle returns at the end of Vltava when the river rushes past the fortress. And Tábor and Blaník quote the identical Hussite hymn, “Ktož jsú Boží bojovníci” (“You Who Are Warriors of God”).
Vltava, by far one of the best recognized of the six pieces, has its story outlined within the score. We hear the sources of the river in a delicate 6/eight burbling; two streams combine to type the mighty, folk-like important theme. The Vltava passes by a forest and we hear searching horns; at the finish of this part there’s an allusion to the Rheingold Prelude. A peasant wedding ceremony brings a polka in 2/4, after which the moon rises and the nymphs come out. The 6/8 important theme resumes and has a rocky time with St. John’s Rapids, however then the fortress looms triumphantly overhead and we hear the Vyšehrad theme earlier than the river runs on to hitch the Elbe.
Andris Nelsons, BSO Principal Trumpeter Thomas Rolfs, and pianist Yuja Wang in curtain call. (Hilary Scott photograph)
Smetana wrote of Z českých luhů a hájů that “It is a portray of the emotions that fill one when gazing on the Bohemian panorama. On all sides singing, both gay and melancholic, resounds from fields and woods: the forest regions, depicted on the solo horn; the gay, fertile lowlands of the Elbe valley are the subject of rejoicing. Everyone might draw his own image in response to his own imagination; for the poet has an open path earlier than him, despite the fact that he should comply with the individual elements of the work.” No story here, then, however the turbulent beginning appears held over from Šárka, where warrior maidens deceive and kill a band of armed males. As soon as the forest quiets down, we hear a clarinet themes that Smetana associated with a peasant woman strolling within the fields. A fugato section evolves into an imposing French horn melody in 3/4 (you possibly can waltz to it) that Smetana described as noon on a summer time’s day, and that in flip is interrupted by an allegro polka. It’s not all sunshine and dancing: toward the top the ominous environment returns.
Blaník takes up where Tábor left off, with the hammering motto theme derived from the Hussite hymn. After a couple of minutes an oboe introduces a pastoral melody that’s echoed by a horn. Ultimately the chorale tune returns, this time in its third line, as a march introduced by the horns. There’s extra dance music, the motto theme is joined by the Vyšehrad theme, and it all ends in a blaze of Czech glory.
Nelsons started Vltava properly, with unusually crisp burbling from flutes after which clarinets as the two streams joined. The tempo was average, which was positive, nevertheless it stayed that means as we passed the searching celebration, and then the measured polka had no dance impulse. Every second evinced a scrupulous plan, though nothing quite stood out, from the moonlit nymphs to the ruined castles, and the arrival of the Vyšehrad produced no joyousness. I missed the ebb and circulate that Rafael Kubelík delivered to his 1971 recording with the BSO.
Z českých luhů a hájů additionally seemd a shade neutral — and in this case a shade quick. There was drama to start out with, after which a release into the woods. Here again, although, the large horn melody didn’t open out, and the polka didn’t afford much distinction, Nelsons protecting his focus tight to the top. He did better with Blaník, the place the initial Hussite theme gave solution to a lilting pastoral before the second Hussite theme rang out. The dance music danced, the march music marched, and the returning themes came with animation, and, eventually, heroic stature.
Jeffrey Gantz has been writing about music, dance, theater, artwork, film, and books for the past 35 years, first for the Boston Phoenix and presently for the Boston Globe.
(perform(d, s, id) var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s); if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = ‘https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&appId=249643311490&version=v2.3’; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); (document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));