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Josefowicz's Sibelius rescues BSO false start

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Featuring Seiji Ozawa, conductor and Leila Josefowicz, violin.

Symphony Hall.

Sept. 28 and 29

By Hur Koser
Staff Reporter

The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened its 115th season last Thursday, with Seiji Ozawa entering his 23rd year as music director. The all-Strauss opening night was apparently triumphal, with soprano Jessye Norman making her debut in five of the composer's lieders. The orchestra was in the mood for the usual glamour of the new season's premiere, and Ozawa's conducting was passionate.

Not all the BSO concerts are glamorous, though. It seems the orchestra practiced for Friday night's concert much less than it did for the opening night - one thing for sure: Beethoven's Sixth Symphony (Pastorale) deserves to be played better than the way it was rushed through on Friday. One cannot but wonder whether the orchestra was so in the mood for yet another energetic Strauss piece (hung over from the night before?) that it failed to convey the cheerful yet placid nature of the symphony. The strings were not exactly in unison, and scariest of all, the horns either occasionally misplayed or simply skipped solos. However, the woodwinds sounded delectable.

Interestingly enough, Beethoven provided each movement of his work with a program or a literary guide to its meaning. The first movement of the Sixth Symphony, for example, is named "Awakening of happy feelings upon reaching the countryside." His titles are brief but enough to suggest to suggest a specific scene - such as "Cheerful gathering of the country folk," or the "Shepherd's song. Happy, grateful feelings after the storm."

The second half of the program was a complete turnaround, though. Most of the credit goes to violinist Leila Josefowicz, who presented a mesmerizing performance of Jean Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D minor (Opus 47). A footnote on Leila Josefowicz: At the age of ten, she appeared on the NBC television special "America's tribute to Bob Hope," which brought her immediate national attention. Since then, the young soloist has been performing with many major orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic.

It was quite a rare occasion for a violin concerto to have the first note so dissonant and off the beat and still capture a sense of the piece's indefinite beauty. Especially when Josefowicz played it on last Friday night, the entire Symphony Hall audience could not but hold their breath and fix their eyes on the 18-year-old virtuoso. The orchestra certainly made up for the misfortunate first half: the strings were completely obedient to Josefowicz's sharp and determined tunes; the horn section was scrupulous and the overall timing of the elements was perfect. The orchestra's accompaniment was soft and delicate (maybe even softer than Sibelius originally intended, since he did not like the idea of an orchestra as an accompanying element). This is mostly because Ozawa worked hard particularly to make the soloist heard. No doubt that Josefowicz fully deserved the incessant applause by the end of the piece; it is fair, however, to say that the BSO rightfully claimed its share of the approval.

The final piece of last Friday's concert was the first of the opening night: Richard Strauss's Don Juan. The orchestra played with no doubts; the performance of this tone poem was simply superb, just as it was on Thursday night. The angry expression that pervaded Ozawa's face at the end of the first half was transformed into a plain, content smile as he bowed graciously to the audience by the end of the concert.

For this coming weekend, BSO plans to welcome its audience with an all-Tchaikovsky program. It will feature the composer's Piano Concerto No.1 in B-Flat minor, and his Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathtique).