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Takemitsu, Dutilleux, and Beethoven

Boston Symphony Orchestra & Ozawa Deliver Quality Performance

By Scott Lee

Staff Writer

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall

Friday, October 26, 2001

In his last season with the with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor Seiji Ozawa gave another outstanding farewell concert. At 66, Ozawa has had a prolific 28 year career with the BSO, during which he has won many awards and had various parts of Symphony Hall renamed after himself.

With the appointment of James Levine as the new Music Director Designate (effective September 2002), this concert provided one of the last glimpses of Ozawa in Symphony Hall. As his tenure at the Vienna State Opera begins next year, Ozawa will shift more of his attention to opera, and less to orchestral pieces. As such, it was a rare opportunity to see a magnificent conductor give his final rendition of Takemitsu’s Dream/Window, Dutilleux’s Shadows of Time, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony in E-flat.

The Norman V. and Ellen B. Ballou Memorial concert, as it was termed, filled symphony hall to capacity, although it was only mid-day. Nonetheless, there was excitement in the air, in anticipation of what a renowned master would do in one of his last concerts.

As the lights dimmed, the petite man with an uncouth mass of gray hair emerged from behind the flutes. Received by a rousing ovation, he began his first piece.

Takemitsu’s Dream/Window, a modern piece which was composed in 1985, has a variety of post-modern and impressionist influences. Ozawa decided to accentuate these features through a variety of maneuvers. First, the seating arrangement placed the principal flute in the concertmaster seat, as well as shifting many violins to the opposite section of the floor. This very atypical arrangement further accentuated the tension brought about the dissonance exhibited throughout the piece. Second, the piece began like Debussy and ended like Bartok. In between, the lyrical style composed on dissonant chords was successful because Ozawa skillfully balanced these transitions. Third, Ozawa effectively employed the soloists in working with the rest of the orchestra. There was harmony on this front, and it made for a pleasant rendition of the piece.

Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time was composed in five parts. The first movement, “Les Heures,” was technically difficult and probably the most successful of the five. The emotionally charged piece incorporated significant brass syncopation and four children singing at the front of the stage. The other sections, such as the “Vagues de lumiere” and “Dominante bleue,” also exhibited Ozawa’s skill in coordinating the complexities of harmonizing the various parts, but was less successful in doing so than the first two movements. The four children who performed for only a brief time seemed more a display item than musical innovation, and their soothing voices could have been incorporated into the pieces more extensively. They seemed to be getting bored and antsy for the minutes on end when they were not doing anything on stage.

The final piece, Beethoven’s Third Symphony in E-flat, Opus 55, Eroica was clearly the most successful of the night. Not that I have a predilection towards the traditional, but the Beethoven was clearly an example where Ozawa’s forte of accentuating subtle individual parts came through. He began the piece without conducting from a manuscript, as the piece forms part of the BSO’s standard repertoire. Nonetheless, with the whole score memorized, he began the “Allegro con brio” with an impassioned introduction and good separation of tones in the various parts. The profundity and clarity of voice within each orchestral part was apparent.

As Ozawa engaged in waving acrobatics with his baton, the unity and focus of the orchestra was powerful. Like a surgeon dissecting the heart from the pericardium, Ozawa ended his concert just as skillfully as he began it. The standing ovation that ensued was a testament to another successful performance. It is unfortunate that this should be one of his last concerts in Boston, but alas, plane tickets to Vienna aren’t so bad right now.

This weekend’s BSO concert features Ives, Mozart, KurtÁg, and Schubert with conductor Federico Cortese. Ozawa will return to Symphony Hall for a Beethoven and Bartok concert in the second week of December.