Review: Mastery on display at Tanglewood as conductors Karina Canellakis, Herbert Blomstedt take the podium
By Clarence Fanto
There was plenty of electricity in the air this past weekend at Tanglewood, fortunately, not the result of storms, but instead sparked by two celebrated instrumentalists — Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma — as well as the Boston Symphony Orchestra debut of a rapidly rising conductor and a memorable appearance by the world’s oldest active living maestro.
Artistry at Ma’s level should never be taken for granted. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s ingratiating Variations on a Rococo Theme on Sunday, Aug. 8, with Karina Canellakis on the podium in her BSO debut, reflected the work’s charm, grace and liveliness through its stylistic bow to Mozart (the Russian composer’s idol). It’s a challenge for any cellist, but Ma appeared to relish its upper-register demands with his characteristic flair and ease.
Highly expressive and animated on the podium, [Canellakis] led the BSO in American composer Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and first performed there in 2014. Mazzoli has written that the 10-minute piece “churns and roils, inching close to the listener only to leap away at breakneck speed,” transforming the orchestra “into a makeshift hurdy-gurdy, flung recklessly into space.” That it did, with a soundscape that included brass players performing improvisations on the harmonica. It’s a dizzying, unsettling piece, well worth hearing again.
Leading Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, Canellakis maximized brilliance and visceral excitement without neglecting the lyrical melancholy of the second movement and the pizzicato-driven playfulness of the scherzo. The finale, based on the Russian folk tune “In the Field Stood a Birch Tree,” ended in a nearly off-the-rails blaze of brass and percussion that demonstrated the conductor’s considerable mastery and control combined with the BSO’s push-to-the-limits virtuosity. A well-deserved ovation followed.