Music to part the clouds

07.28.08
Sarah Chang
Berkshire Eagle

LENOX - There is (or used to be) a legendary story in journalistic lore about a reporter sent out to cover a major flood in Pennsylvania.Awe-struck, he filed a report that began, "God sat down on the mountaintop and wept." Unimpressed, the city editor fired off a reply that began, "Forget flood. Interview God."

For a time, yesterday's Tanglewood concert by the visiting Orchestra of St. Luke's threatened to become an event of that kind: Forget music.

Interview weatherman. The concert began late amid a colossal thunderstorm, with lawn sitters given shelter in the back rows of the Shed, and continued through the first half amid a constant cannonade of thunder.

But you know what? This program parted the clouds, musically speaking.

The concluding Beethoven Seventh Symphony got a performance that made you want to jump up and shout, "Yes! Hit me again! This is the way music should always be!"

Is this the way they always do things at the Caramoor Festival in Katonah, N. Y. , where the chamber-sized ensemble spends its summers?

Based in New York City, the Orchestra of St. Luke's is made up of players who appear to be mostly on the comfortable side of 40. Under Roberto Abbado, they certainly played with youthful energy and spirit, as well as spit-and-polish accuracy.

 

That Beethoven Seventh was full of surprises of the good kind. It isn't easy to make music as familiar as this sound fresh without diddling around with it, but Beethoven's rhythmic obsessions crackled with nuance, drive, biting attacks and dynamic shadings - with all the juices of life that can make this symphony irresistible. The horns gloried in their big role. Abbado seemed determined to find everything stated or implied in the score. It was all there in glowing color under the sodden skies.

The program opened on a somber note that had nothing to do with the weather: Joan Tower's 2001 threnody, "In Memory."

Note that date. In a program note, Tower explained that the 15-minute piece started out as an elegy for a friend but soon 9/11 occurred and turned it into a lament for the victims of the attack as well.

If pain can be made audible without words, this composition does it.

Soft, descending passages with slowly shifting, tightly clustered dissonances alternate with near-screams of agony.

This doesn't make easy listening. But Tower succeeded in giving voice to what she describes as "the anger and pain that results from the loss of people in one's life." A teacher at Bard College, winner of major awards, and frequent presence in the Berkshires, she was on hand for a bow.

Sarah Chang was a memorizing soloist in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, another well-worn concert piece. With focused playing and tone, and tempos that seemed to breathe with the music, she made the familiar music at once hers and Mendelssohn's. The long song of the slow movement was especially fetching. Under Abbado, orchestra and soloist were as one in their collaboration.