Prom 51: Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons

Sunday 23rd August 2015, 3pm

Royal Albert Hall     

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor                  

Haydn – Symphony No. 90 in C major   (24 mins)                                               

Barber – Essay No. 2, Op 17 (11 mins)                

ShostakovichSymphony No. 10 in E minor Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op 93 (57 mins)

Encore – Shostakovich – Galop

About this event

Returning for a second appearance this summer, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra bring a piece of America with them in Barber’s Essay No. 2 – a symphony in miniature, moving from lyrical loveliness through contrapuntal conflict to end with a radiant chorale. They pair it with Haydn’s Symphony No. 90, where ebullient mischief and dignity vie for supremacy in sunny C major. Joy gives way to high drama, however, in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 – a vivid portrait of Stalinist Russia.

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Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

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Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony has become something of a calling card for Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra since Nelsons took up his appointment as music director last year. Their recording, the first instalment of a series entitled Under Stalin’s Shadow, caused a considerable stir, and the symphony formed the main work of Nelsons’ second Prom with his new orchestra.

It was a remarkable achievement, exploring every facet of a complex score. The symphony is widely regarded as an act of self-vindication on Shostakovich’s part after Stalin’s death. Nelsons’ interpretation, however, embraces a wider frame of reference than political anger, although he views the final expression of triumph as one of unambiguous elation. In this performance the structure had an almost Brahmsian tautness, in which not a single note is wasted. Whatever its political subtext, the symphony also encoded Shostakovich’s unrequited love for his pupil Elmira Nazirova, and the third movement was done with extraordinary tenderness. It was immaculately played.”     …

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Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Barber’s Essay No. 2 for Orchestra felt like a bit of a box-ticker: a native work for the orchestra to bring on tour, as close as any American could manage to the European barnstormers that Nelsons is famous for. It’s an attractive piece, a 10-minute single movement, by turns dramatic and lyrical. The material is of appropriate scale for the modest duration, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, apart from in the overblown coda, which is repetitive to point of redundancy, and beyond. Skilful orchestration though, ideal for showcasing the orchestra’s many strengths.

From the first note of the Shostakovich symphony, it was clear that this was going to be a very special performance. The quiet, winding cello line was presented with absolute precision and clarity, the tone rich but intensely focused. As the movement gradually grew, Nelsons gently urged the music on, giving each of the woodwind just enough space to phrase, but always fitting their solos into a clearly defined and elegantly articulated progression. He was in his absolute prime in the turbulent second movement, the music here ideal for his propulsive, sometimes verging on manic, approach.

Shostakovich’s humour is never black under Nelsons’ baton. He gives the music its full measure of irony, but never lets it wallow in despair.”     …

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Review by Ben Lawrence, Telegraph:

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There was a sense of apprehension when Andris Nelsons strode towards the Podium at the Royal Albert Hall for this, his second of two Proms with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons is the orchestra’s new music director and the shadow of past triumphs with his old colleagues at Birmingham’s CBSO loomed large.

In his previous job, Nelsons had developed such an intense connection with his players that you feared he wouldn’t have had time to elicit a response of any emotional depth from the Bostonians. Reassuringly, it was business as usual – those eagle-like swoops at moments of symphonic darkness, the playful hand puppetry, which teases out musical mischief – as he proved that, despite his intense theatricality, he is a conductor of exquisite technical nuance.

Haydn’s Symphony Number 90 was performed with a mathematical crispness that nevertheless switched effortlessly (in the double variation of the second movement) to something more profound. Nelsons slightly over-egged the famous false finale, in which the strings gallop to a four-bar silence before an extended coda in D Flat Major – here, four bars seemed to last an age, and Haydn’s musical joke subsequently felt heavy footed.”     …

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Review by David Truslove, BachTrack:

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The second of the BSO’s two London concerts began with Haydn’s Symphony no. 90 in C major. While in the opening movement there might occasionally have been cleaner horn sounds and a more rounded oboe tone there was no doubt about Andris Nelsons’ clear and invigorating direction. Perhaps supervision might be a more appropriate term, since from the Andante onwards there were moments when his left hand just rested motionless on the podium or, batonless, when he merely indicated to players when individuals were in the limelight. One such moment, in one of many chamber-style passages, was a winning partnership between flute and violins where their faultless musicianship caught the ear. In the finale, the high point of the entire performance, the violins seemed ablaze with animation with superbly articulated sforzando semiquavers. The work’s false ending was humorously achieved with Nelson jokingly closing the score during the four bars rest before the coda. Always alert and with some wonderfully spontaneous gestures, Nelsons was a joy to watch and appeared to be plugged into the national grid, such was the electrifying stimulus coming from the stand.

Andris Nelsons © BBC | Chris Christodoulou (Prom 49)

Andris Nelsons
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou (Prom 49)

Before the interval the BSO regrouped for Samuel Barber’s Essay no. 2. Written on the eve of the composer’s call up to the US army air force in 1942, and only once previously heard at the proms, the Essay is a colourfully orchestrated work. Its wistful moments, neatly drawn by expressive woodwinds at the outset, were countered by dramatic tensions in which timpani and brass made an impressive impact, and indicated that Barber is more than just an unabashed Romantic. A warm string tone also contributed to a fine, heartfelt performance, the Bostonians clearly at home with one of their own composers.”     …

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Review by Nick Breckenfield, ClassicalSource:

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…     “After the interval was Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Nelsons and the BSO’s current calling card, having recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon to release in time for the tour. Shostakovich could match Haydn with humour, but of a more sardonic type, especially in the abrupt second movement. First, though, the BSO’s mahogany-rich cellos and double basses responded to the resonant Albert Hall acoustic at the opening of the expansive first movement – just a bar was enough to convince of the quality of this new partnership. Nelsons is as lithe and athletic as ever: bending back on to the slatted wooden podium brought from home, then crouching with knees almost to the floor as he peers over his score for a pianissimo.

The poignancy of Shostakovich’s unrequited love for pupil Elmira Nazirova was given rapt life by James Sommerville’s magisterial horn solo against the woodwinds, chattering away with the composer’s oft-used monogram DSCH in the third movement, while the slow introduction to the Finale, makes way for the bittersweet culmination of the Symphony; accepting the Soviet world has changed following the death of Stalin, but in no way enough.

Playing to the Symphony’s musical rather than overtly political or emotional side, Nelsons is a direct and honest interpreter, though also aware of the composer’s contradictions. Eventually quieting the acclamation (having noticed the pair of prommers holding up a line of scarlet hosiery – Boston Red Sox; geddit?!) he told us they had one more piece of Shostakovich – a sarcastic ‘Galop’; immediately recognisable from Cheryomushki.

Finally, and incidentally, I was intrigued by the lavish Boston Symphony Orchestra press pack. With respect to the tour, although it gave the details of all the venues where the BSO is playing, it didn’t mention any of the summer festivals that had issued invitations: no mention of the Proms, the Salzburg Festival or the Lucerne Festival. And it’s the same on the Boston website: although the Salzburg Festival website is the one that it links to, the London link is to the Royal Albert Hall site not the Proms. What a peculiar world view they must have.”

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Review by Geoff Brown, The Times: ££

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The CBSO at the BBC Proms

Tuesday 21 August 2012 at 7.30pm

Royal Albert Hall, London +44 (0)20 7589 8212

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila 5′
Howard: Calculus of the Nervous System (UK premiere) 15′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 in C major ‘Leningrad’ 75′

This concert’s curtain-raiser is a scintillating overture which kick-started a new era in Russian music. In Calculus of the Nervous System, which has already taken Vienna by storm, Emily Howard draws upon her interest in the inner world of Ada Lovelace, pioneering mathematician daughter of Lord Byron, considered a prophet of the computer age.

Shostakovich completed his titanic Seventh Symphony as German armies advanced deep into the motherland. More recently it has also been seen as one of his exercises in tactful subversion, depicting a Leningrad whose intellectual life Stalin had already shattered. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

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…     “The power of Nelsons’ interpretation lay in his understanding of the score’s emotive nature and intent. This is music that demands we be thrown off balance and drawn into total identification with its world, and Nelsons, conducting with unswerving passion, achieved precisely that. Passion alone, however, can lead to flaws of pace in this work, and beneath Nelsons’ energy lurked secure control of its structure and trajectory. The emotional high point, tellingly, came not during the convulsions of the first movement, but in the third, in which echoes of Russian orthodox church music suggest a ritualised outpouring of communal grief. An exhausting, elating experience, and absolutely unforgettable.”     …

Review by Michael Church, Independent:

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…     “If Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra made a good fist of this, they excelled themselves with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony, which came over in as majestic a blaze as I have ever heard. Wonderful wind soloists, superb strings, percussion letting loose the dogs of war: a magisterial performance which richly deserved its ovation.” 

Review by Kimon Daltas, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “One barely earned interval later, the main event – and right from the off, the symphony makes demands of the winds especially, both exposed and in ensemble. Ferocious fortissimos notwithstanding, it deals mostly in sparse textures and gradual build-ups, so there is nowhere to hide when your turn comes. The CBSO was more than equal to the task, and a number of exceptional soloists rose from the ranks to deliver Shostakovich’s sometimes winding, sometimes impish and angular melodies. Whether piccolo, bassoon or cor anglais, and from a screeching E flat clarinet to its rasping bass cousin, a vast orchestral and expressive palette emerged with tremendous surety. Not to leave the strings out – the leader’s aerial solo in the first movement set the tone, and the extended strings-only sections later in the work showed what a rich core this orchestra has.

There is plenty of down time in this symphony – moments where you’re waiting for the next thing to happen but a direction has yet to emerge. Andris Nelsons kept the intensity throughout, and richly deserved the audience’s cheers.”

Blog by Robert Hugill:

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…     “Both the middle movements are intended to be unsettling, with relatively conventional first sections followed by rather demonic passages. Here the CBSO were in full character, with Nelsons whipping them up into a fine frenzy. There was a superbly evil solo from the E flat clarinet and a well realised passage where Shostakovich gives the solo line to the bass clarinet, accompanying it by flutes and harp. Here, and in many other places, Nelsons showed himself very acute when it came to Shostakovich’s distinctive aural palate.”     …

Blog review by Edward Seckerson:

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…     “Nelsons’ subtle way with the inner movements brought ghostly and ethereal beauty, the wide compass between the E-flat and bass clarinets accentuating the spectral extremes of the second movements gentle and only briefly disturbed dance of death and one truly heartstopping moment in the third movement where strings recall the Stravinskian chorale of its opening.

Those pianissimi are of such import in this music and the long slow climb to the coda of the last movement lifted us from the intensely private to the unashamedly public. The affirmation, for all its filmic rhetoric, was – as it always is – mighty.”

Blog by Starcourse:

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“Terrific performance of the Leningrad Symphony last night at the Proms, with Andris Nelsons conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons has an ebullient and distinctive conducting style which was well suited to this work, and to the Glinka Ruslan and Lyudmila overture which began the concert. The CBSO was playing its socks off in the Shostakovich, as well it might given that it is such a monumental masterwork.”     …

Blog by HikerBiker:

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…     “Andris Nelsons and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra brought this all out of the music, they survived with panache the dramatically exposed solo passages and the no less demanding unison sections. The split brass (soloists high up above the violins audience left) punched clear, clean and hard whilst the orchestral brass partnered finely with the rest of the platform.

A standing ovation with foot stamping was the audience’s reaction, Andris Nelsons acknowledging the many orchestral soloists in turn.”     …

Review by Chris Caspell, ClassicalSource:

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…      “Nelsons set a jaunty pace from the start; more allegro than Allegretto. Full-blooded, take-no-prisoners playing by the unison strings at the start signalled good things to come; this was a well thought out performance. However, issues of balance were a problem. The side drum was far too loud at the start of the ‘invasion’ theme (it is marked ppp) and in loud passages it was impossible to hear anything but the brass – even the xylophone was lost! The two middle movements gave Nelsons an opportunity to wring the pathos out of intimate passages. Of particular note the oboe and cor anglais solo were beautifully phrased.”     …

Review by Matthew Lynch, Bachtrack:

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…     “The CBSO’s performance under Nelsons was simply electric. From the outset the strident opening benefitted from the orchestra’s impressive string sound, while the second subject was still and sensitively played. The woodwind solos were all beautifully controlled, but not lacking any of the necessary spring and excitement. Special mention must go to the E-flat clarinet player, Joanna Paton, and piccolo player, Andrew Lane, whose playing was especially gripping.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this performance was the dynamics. The pianos were breathtakingly quiet, while every crescendo gave the impression it could continue indefinitely. The central section of the first movement is a long marching “invasion” and crescendos inexorably towards the movement’s climax. The CBSO filled the hall, making the floor rumble with sound, while maintaining perfect balance. So often these moments can become one big roar of brass, but that wasn’t the case here. Nelsons managed to direct a performance that not only had wonderful moments, but felt like an organic whole over the work’s full 75 minutes, an impressive achievement for any conductor. Anyone who ever had doubts about the CBSO’s future should see this concert as proof that they continue to impress greatly.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But the ruminations of subsequent movements meander mercilessly, though the delicacy of the CBSO woodwind, flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic absolutely outstanding in her constant exposure, did make eloquent points.

Never mind; this was a performance built on utmost patience and control, and amazing, cherished trust between orchestra and conductor. And the Prom audience, including many charabanc’d members of the CBSO supporters’ club and bigwigs from Symphony Hall, responded with a huge ovation.”     … 

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