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Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall

October 1, 2015

The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened its first concert of the season in a fashion that reflected the all-Russian program: quick and to the point. Upon entering, conductor Andris Nelsons was greeted with a standing ovation; however, the audience barely had time to sit down before the BSO began Shostakovich’s playful Ninth Symphony. It was easy to appreciate the lightness of the strings and winds juxtaposed with the fanfare of the brass. I found myself captivated by Nelsons’ conducting, which conveyed excitement and scrutiny to detail, and the way the orchestra responded in kind. Navigating through Shostakovich’s bright Allegro, his eerie Moderato, and his loud Presto, the musicians demonstrated their versatility in both technical and emotional depth.

The all-Russian program continued with the eminent pianist Evgeny Kissin joining the stage to perform one of the most well-known pieces in piano repertoire, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Kissin brought crushing fortissimos and stable chords, which, combined with the orchestra’s fvull sound, brought the splendor of Tchaikovsky to life. Kissin’s mutability was demonstrated through his cadenza at the end of the first movement, during which he showed off his virtuosity; the runs of chords and octaves were executed confidently. Although Kissin’s technique was stunning, I was even more impressed by his ability to shape and time the phrases so thoughtfully. As an audience member, I thought Kissin’s ability to convey a range of emotions made the performance easier to follow and more rewarding. The rest of the audience clearly felt similarly because after the orchestra rejoined Kissin to finish the movement, the audience was left with such a feeling of conclusion and couldn’t help but roar in applause.

Kissin’s second movement was poignant, reminiscent of innocence and love. This movement was my personal favorite of the entire concert; the flute’s opening theme was echoed by the piano, creating an interaction that reminded me of soft winter snow. Later, the winds and the piano spun a lovely conversation that was matched only by the cello and piano duet. However, I was most moved by the beautiful harmony that was created when the piano, oboe, and cellos came together to recapitulate the theme.

Tchaikovsky’s great piano concerto came to a close after an incredible display of Kissin’s flair. Kissin and the BSO sent off the concerto’s third movement with a final chord that propelled the audience to its feet. Kissin eventually sat back down at the piano bench for an encore, and the audience swiftly quieted down to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Méditation, Op. 72.

The orchestra’s final offering to the audience was Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, which was also Rachmaninoff’s final composition. Additionally, Symphonic Dances is notable for its alto saxophone solo, which can supposedly be attributed to the American composer Robert Bennett. Throughout the piece, the audience was presented with contrasts between quintessential Russian richness and lighter, more thoughtful sections. Nelsons’ conducting was captivating; during the dreamy first movement, Nelsons led without a baton, weaving his hands between the piece’s layers and freeing the sound. Rachmaninoff’s bombastic ending inspired the audience’s third standing ovation of the night.