I cannot characterize it, exactly, but there’s something about Hispanic music that is captivating. From Central and South American folk songs to Spanish dances and everything beyond, there are so many vibrant and passionate musical forms. Suffice it to say, I was pretty excited to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) led by guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos perform Manuel de Falla’s Suite from Atlàntida, even though it was completed posthumously by his student. I have had the pleasure of hearing the fruits of Frühbeck’s work with the BSO, in which they performed music from Albéniz.
Falla’s Suite from Atlàntida is based on a Catalan poem that depicts the epic of Atlantis. Along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, who are always a welcome addition to the Symphony Hall stage, the four soloists were contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, soprano Alexandra Coku, baritone Philip Cutlip, and thirteen year old male soprano Ryan Williams. Both Ms Coku and Mr Cutlip made their BSO debuts in this performance. I’ve written before about the wonderment of the human voice on stage at Symphony Hall, and I think many of the most memorable performances at the BSO have featured singers. This was certainly no exception, though I was quite close to the stage tonight, in the second row (H) but far audience-right. The differences in young Mr Williams’ performance and that of Ms Coku or Ms Stutzmann was striking. There is a unique quality in the child’s voice that is distinctly different from the adult’s, despite singing in similar ranges. The adult voices seem to have more color in them, so to speak, which perhaps might be manifested in a richer subharmonic stack. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the voices was surprisingly evident.
Within this excellent piece, I was captivated by El Somni D’Isabel (Isabella’s Dream). However, it not the beautifully sung role of Isabella but the a cappella singing of the character “A Lady of the Court” by Ms Stutzmann that mesmerized me, however briefly. The quality of an unaccompanied voice reverberating alone inside the otherwise empty Hall had a dream-like quality to it, a fitting introduction to the piece.
I’m fortunate enough to be attending tomorrow night’s performance from about 30 rows back in orchestra, which should provide a wholly different experience from the intimacy of tonight’s performance. Especially hearing the vocalists from there should be a treat.
Of course, it will also affect the experience of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, the other piece on the program for these concerts. While I just finished saying that the most memorable performances of the BSO are vocal, I also have stated before that symphonies are where the BSO truly shine. I’ve seen Brahms’ Symphony Nos. 1 and 4 performed at the BSO previously, and this gets me one step closer to completing the BSO Brahms Cycle. Hopefully Symphony No. 3 will be programmed as early as next season, but for now, I was excited about hearing Symphony No. 2 live.
Tonight, I was in a vacant row for some reason, and the row behind me was also unoccupied. It dawned on me that there might never be a chance again to perform a small, harmless experiment that technically breaks a rule at Symphony Hall …. At the intermission, I turned on my iPod kilo (also known as the iPad), and I ensured that it was fully muted, turned the brightness down to the lowest setting, and downloaded the full score of the Brahms in PDF form from International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)’s Petrucci Library. Because I was so close to the stage, the ambient lights from the stage washed out any potentially annoying backlighting from the device, and no one was around me, so there wasn’t anyone to bother. Even page “turns” on the iPod kilo are silent, naturally, so it should not have been a distraction to anyone. I kept the score up during the performance and was able to follow along with it bar by bar. I often listen to recorded music with a score, watching the melody get handed off like a baton in a relay, and seeing how different parts interact. At first I mostly followed the violin parts, until I got a feel for how the pages were arranged on this particular score (they all seem slightly different), and soon I was able to move freely between interesting sections from each instrument. I often followed the loudest part, which is usually the melody, but it was also great fun to follow the violas and other sections that often play — you know — second fiddle to their higher pitched cousins.
I am glad that I had this rare opportunity to follow a score along with the live BSO performance, but it’s not something I need to do too often. The visual co-presentation probably helped me connect better to the music than when I watch the members of the orchestra play, since my memory is now coupled to the analytic, written music. As it happens, it’s pretty difficult to follow the music and listen to it all as a whole, and I definitely prefer to sit back and enjoy the music, while reading along was often an exercise in freneticism.
As far as the music itself, it’s Brahms and BSO. What more could I ask for? From the program notes, it seems that there is somewhat of a conflict of perception with Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. While written with a major key throughout and sounding more upbeat and pleasant than his other symphonies, it seems that Brahms’ felt that this was one of his darker, more melancholy works. The impression I got from the notes and from other reading on Brahms is that he was not one to be known so plainly, and so within a piece that others perceive as pleasant a darkness and perhaps a loneliness that only a certain disposition can detect. Admittedly it’s an abstract concept for which to listen, but one thing I like about Brahms is that it’s endlessly fascinating.
I might have mentioned somewhere else that Brahms reminds me of Charles Mingus. Both were large in both girth and personality, wore large beards, and were brilliant composers. Both Mingus and Brahms were characterized as often matter-of-fact and seemed intensely private. I’d love to explore this notion more.
I’m already looking ahead to tomorrow night’s performance. I recognize that I’m spoiled by the riches of this place, and I fully intend on taking advantage of it.