Joyous Tanglewood opening night with Boston Symphony Orchestra and Joshua Bell

Opening Night at Tanglwood 2016 with Jacques Lacombe and Joshua Bell
by Larry Murray

With a slow but steady rain falling, the lawn at Tanglewood was sparsely populated, but inside the shed there were smiles all around as the Boston Symphony Orchestra celebrated the opening of its 2016 Tanglewood season last night. The beginning of the classical season is always festive, and for long time concert-goers, it was a pleasure to see and hear violinist Joshua Bell, back for his 28th consecutive summer at Tanglewood since his debut here in 1989. Bell’s choice as soloist was Saint-Saëns’s gypsy influenced Violin Concerto No. 3. The sound of his Strad filled the shed with infectious rhythms and melodies.

Opening Night at Tanglewood 2016 from Larry Murray on Vimeo.

Canadian conductor Jacques Lacombe may not be known for florid conducting, but his communication with the players resulted in a delightfully raucous and colorfully Spanish-flavored Alborada del gracioso, by Ravel, eight minutes of pure musical fireworks that delighted this listener who has never lost his appreciation for the contrast of shimmering brass duking it out with pizzicato strings and doubled harps. What an uplifting racket!

The program closed with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in a reading that made this Koussevitzky favorite fresh and new again. The legendary BSO music director conducted the first performance in America in 1945, as well its first Tanglewood performance in 1949. It was heard most recently in 2008 under Andre Previn. What maestro Lacombe brought to the piece was some clarity of line and form, along with a delicious goosing of the early Prokofiev filmic elements that abound in the allegro marcato. This ear detected the horses from his score to the Sergei Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky as well as assorted bits and pieces from his earlier compositions.

While the theme of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony is said to glorify the human spirit, there is a forced feel to the upbeat musical optimism, and the third movements adagio can certainly make the spirits sag, but not in the reading that Lacombe gave to this often dour section. Perhaps it was the clean, richly fused sound of the strings – the cellos and violas as much as the violins – that spoke so eloquently, but this was a Prokofiev Fifth that spoke to me as no other recent performance has.

A splendid night, and while the rain was unfortunate, it did have the beneficial effect of tamping down the temperatures and allowing the cool breezes that bring blessed relief to hot city folk every summer to prevail. With a schedule that is nonstop from now to early September, it’s only right to observe that some 300,000 music lovers will visit the Berkshires during the summer, most of them headed to Tanglewood.

Nice to have great music in the neighborhood again.

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