LENOX, Mass. — If you had been courageous sufficient, there was a time final summer time when you might nonetheless flip into the drive of Tanglewood, the idyllic summer time house of the Boston Symphony Orchestra right here. There had been the common native youngsters to direct you to your parking area, one pointing the means each few yards; the common state troopers, patrol vehicles idling, there to tip a hat; the common flowers, lining the path by way of the pristine white gates.
But the familiarity stopped there. Walking by way of the grounds, saved open and manicured even in the absence of performances, the loneliness was overwhelming. No volunteers, overeager to assist. No ice lotions. No mother and father fretting, questioning how removed from the stage to arrange, protected to settle their toddler when the time got here. Nothing to see, the Koussevitzky Music Shed boarded up, disconsolate; no music to listen to, solely the birds.
Well, music is coming house.
The Boston Symphony opened its shortened, little-short-of-miraculous summer time season right here with a live performance on Saturday night time, the orchestra’s first in-person efficiency since the darkish, fearful nights of March 2020, and its first with its music director, Andris Nelsons, since the January prior.
Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony in a Beethoven program on Saturday night time.Credit…Jillian Freyer for The New York Times
The program was made to please, and please it did, however the ambiance would have been festive regardless. There had been standing ovations for the orchestra, standing ovations for the conductor, standing ovations for Mark Volpe, the orchestra’s just-retired president and chief government. The gamers, not usually given to outward expressions of emotion, stomped their ft when their chief, Tamara Smirnova, discovered the proper key on the piano to ask them to tune.
The authorities had set attendance at half the norm, however the rolling grounds hummed with chatter, garden chairs crammed shut; the entrance rows of the Shed felt full, three-foot distancing or not. There could be no intermission, although the live performance nonetheless lasted almost two hours; there could be no “Ode to Joy,” with singing nonetheless banned. I noticed a single masks, amid 1000’s of faces.
By Sunday afternoon, when a second live performance passed off, all of it felt oddly regular: college students wandering out and in of the Shed, listening to a bit then leaving to apply, or not; spectators darting for canopy as the rain got here down, giving up on their defenses in opposition to the bugs; the entire place glowing, regardless of the gloom, with the vivid inexperienced tarps that had been on provide at the door, some defending bottoms from the mud, others shielding picnics from the rain. Priorities.
“Reconnect, Restore, Rejoice,” the entrance of the program guide declared. Nelsons, in his halting, earnest means, spoke from the stage of how the pandemic — seemingly considered in the previous tense, even as the world counts over 4 million lives misplaced — reminded us of “how much we need art, how much we need culture,” and of music being “comfort for our souls.”
The entire place glowed and felt like regular, our critic says, with folks apprehensive about typical issues, like rain and bugs.Credit…Jillian Freyer for The New York Times
There could be no revolutions right here, and no memorials both, only a restoration of the ancien régime: an orchestra enjoying what it has lengthy performed, and enjoying it fairly effectively. Beethoven it must be, and the Fifth Symphony, too — the Beethoven of overcome catastrophe, of the human spirit, indomitable.
Near sufficient, a minimum of. Surely it would take time for gamers, even of this high quality, to type a collective once more, to fill out their sound, to seek out the assault and the togetherness that mark the finest ensembles. An enchancment from Saturday night time was already audible on Sunday, in a peppy run-through of Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony.
Before that, there have been slack moments in the Beethoven, bars when balances had been put aside in pursuit of sheer exuberance, passages that had been allowed to float by a conductor who has appeared to develop extra standoffish as an interpreter since his arrival in Boston in 2014.
But the impact was nonetheless potent, surprisingly not a lot for the affect of the entire, however for glimmers of the gamers let loose: the clarinet of William R. Hudgins, so mellow, such a balm; the flute of Elizabeth Rowe, so uncommon in its woodiness; the trumpet of Thomas Rolfs, so rousing at full stretch.
Nelsons conducts Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto with Emanuel Ax at the piano.Credit…Jillian Freyer for The New York Times
The similar high quality subtleties appealed in the work of the soloists on provide, too, neither of them ostentatious. Emanuel Ax is no one’s thought of a spotlight-hugging pianist, preferring to share it or give it away wholesale, however what a delight it was to listen to such discretion in his “Emperor” Concerto — such care taken over the voicing of a chord, such sensitivity in the means his proper hand formed phrases in response to the orchestra. Baiba Skride took a lot the similar strategy to the Sibelius Violin Concerto, an affecting account of deep, even forlorn introspection, a lot of it performed inward, towards the violas on her left.
Comfort for the soul, certainly.
The query stays, nonetheless, whether or not this orchestra will resolve to aim extra, even as salaries get better from 37 % cuts and losses of greater than $50 million in income forged a shadow over the finances. It has introduced in a brand new president and chief government, Gail Samuel, from the formidable Los Angeles Philharmonic; an encouraging quantity of its streaming vitality over the previous 12 months was spent exploring music that it has for too lengthy ignored; and the Symphony Hall season will provide new works by Julia Adolphe, Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin.
But that season appears to be like dreary in contrast with these being supplied by equally tradition-bound orchestras elsewhere. It speaks volumes that scant time was devoted right here to something up to date, even when Carlos Simon’s “Fate Now Conquers” made its mark, throbbing with frantic vitality whereas seeming to run on the spot, with its transient response to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
The Boston Symphony returns, then — and continues merely to abide.