CAMA’s next event will be a concert by the incomparable Boston Symphony Orchestra — the first time this stellar ensemble has played here since 1953 — at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
The conductor will be Ludovic Morlot, who has just been chosen to succeed Gerard Schwarz as music director of the Seattle Symphony, and the guest soloist will be the accomplished pianist Richard Goode. The sponsors include the Elaine Stepanek Concert Fund (Primary), the Hollis Norris Fund, Ted Plute and Larry Falxa, plus co-sponsors Dorothy and Freeman Gosden Jr.
The Boston Symphony, founded in 1881, used to be famous for, among other things, tuning to an “A” of 444 vibrations, rather than the standard 440. (Irrelevant digression: The greatest pizzas I ever ate were from a long-defunct pizzeria in Cardiff-by-the-Sea called “Carnegie A-440.”) The A-444 tuning contributed to the tight brilliance of the Boston’s sound, which was unrivaled in its time. A succession of powerful music directors — Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf and Seiji Ozawa — piled up the Boston’s musical capital to a surplus that has yet to be spent down. They remain among a small handful of the world’s permanently great orchestras.
Their program, which could conceivably be the same one it played here 58 years ago, will consist of four works: Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Opus 9; Wolfgang Mozart’s Concerto No. 25 in C-Major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 503; the “Prelude” and “Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde; and the Suite from Béla Bartók’s mime-play, The Miraculous Mandarin.
Berlioz was as great an innovator as Wagner (his idée fixe anticipated Wagner’s leit-motiv by several decades), as great an orchestrator as Richard Strauss or Rimsky-Korsakov, and as haunting a melodist as any composer — ever. Yet the notion persists that he is a kind of peripheral figure, eccentric and unreliable.
To be sure, he had a wild youth, but he was steadfast and hardworking with respect to his musical pursuits, and he was always generous to a fault with his fellow musicians. If I call him the most Byronic of composers, it is with the understanding that Byron was as steady and dedicated a poet as Berlioz was a composer, and that they both have suffered from being remembered more by their reputation than their works. The Roman Carnival Overture, worked up from passages in his unsuccessful opera Benvenuto Cellini, was one of Berlioz’s undisputed hits. He conducted the first performance himself, without a single rehearsal. It was a triumph. German pianist and conductor Charles Hallé, who was there at the premiere, called Berlioz “the most perfect conductor.”
The Boston Symphony has a long and honorable association with the music of Bartok, including the commissioning of his greatest masterpiece, the Concerto for Orchestra. The Miraculous Mandarin was composed a quarter-century before the Concerto, in a time of upheaval and revolution, which knocked the composer’s life all out of whack and sent him wandering from his beloved Hungary. The story of the ballet is strange, and the original performances (1926, 1927) outraged audiences. Bartok withdrew it, and it was not danced again until just after he died (1945). No doubt he identified with the eponymous character, who, beaten and stabbed repeatedly, cannot die until someone shows pity for him. The music is compelling, mesmerizing.
Tickets to the Boston Symphony are available from the Granada box office at 1214 State St. or 805.899.2222, or click here to order online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.