BSO does Gypsies, Golijov, William Tell and Mozart
Boston Symphony Orchestra
July 27, 2003
Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass.
Conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Rossini, Overture to William Tell
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K. 482, featuring Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Golijov, Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, featuring Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Kodaly, Dances of Galanta

Review by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., July 28, 2003) – Sunday afternoon’s concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra was a marvelously eclectic affair featuring selections ranging from the classical Top 40 to sublime work by Mozart to orchestrated folk dance to contemporary song settings by Osvaldo Golijov, as well as stirring performances by soloists Garrick Ohlsson and Dawn Upshaw.

Upshaw’s mini-recital was the highlight of a near-perfect program. The soprano offered three songs by Golijov, the Argentinean-born son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who has become a favorite son at Tanglewood, having first arrived in 1990 as a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. Her first number, “Lullaby – Close Your Eyes,” was a Yiddish translation of a Sally Potter poem, part of a larger instrumental work titled “Night of the Flying Horses.” Upshaw’s singing was evocative even as her pronunciation failed her on occasion (couldn’t someone have provided a Yiddish tutor?). The subsequent doina and gallop, however, were magnificent, with the woodwinds and basses reversing roles in the former, the basses providing a rumbling harmonic bed through which a clarinet occasionally pierced, and the latter a full, orchestral version of a freylekh, rendered here as a dynamic bit of spaghetti-western klezmer.

Upshaw had much better feel for the two other songs. “Lua descolorida”, from a poem by Rosalia de Castro, is part of Golijov’s La Pasion Segun San Marcos and a regular part of Upshaw’s repertoire, here given a jaunty, two-step feel. “How Slow the Wind,” a setting of two Emily Dickinson poems about death, hinted at Philip Glass-style minimalism with its circular instrumental patterns through which Upshaw sang her lines, also minimalist-style, repeating them in different combinations divorced from their original syntax.

Golijov was in the audience at the Koussevitzky Shed, was entreated to join Upshaw and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya for several encores.

Harth-Bedoya brought the curtain down on the afternoon with Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta,” stirring evocations of old Hungarian Gypsy dances orchestrated and arranged in rondo-like patterns. The woodwinds sang the part of the Gypsies while the strings surrounded and embraced them like the Transylvanian valleys and hillsides.

The concert opened with a lively rendering of Rossini’s Overture to William Tell which brought smiles of recognition and even laughter to the crowd, familiar with this music as much through cartoons as anywhere else. The overture began with a plaintive cello quartet, which the basses joined to give ballast and a harmonic foundation. The woodwinds then took the lead and violins pushed them along before the first burst of cartoonish bombast came rippling out of the trombones.

The overture also features a familiar pastoral meditation – a love melody in which Bugs Bunny dresses up in disguise and charms Elmer Fudd – and oboes and bassoons flirted while flutes danced around like sprites. The lyricism of this section set up the perfect contrast for the final fanfare and race to the finish line, in a piece that might be considered lightweight but which was perfectly pitched for Sunday afternoon cartoon fans of all ages.

The Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat might have been chosen to follow for its reputation as one of the composer’s “trumpet and drums” concertos, but pianist Garrick Ohlsson grabbed it and played long, linear bebop like runs over a modulating orchestra in the opening Allegro portion.

[Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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