This past weekend was a big one for orchestras in Massachusetts. On Saturday evening my colleague John Nowacki gave his first pre-concert talk for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and was witness to a season opening concert he called splendid and “breathtaking.” He was particularly happy to note the presence of a group of college students seated near him, as a sign that interest in classical music isn’t dying out among the young, and was glad to discover what we have known for some time, that under Kevin Rhodes the SSO has become an exciting ensemble. You can hear their performances featured frequently in the classical music programs on New England Public Radio. And you can also listen to John Nowacki’s interview with Kevin Rhodes about the new Springfield Symphony Orchestra season.
Meanwhile I was experiencing the same kind of excitement in Boston’s Symphony Hall, as the Boston Symphony Orchestra welcomed its new Music Director, Andris Nelsons. The musical establishment of the city, and indeed the whole country, as shown by this story about Nelsons from All Things Considered, had the highest hopes for him. Indeed, he was on the video screen of the WGBH studios that we saw driving into Boston on the Mass Pike, and on a BSO billboard on the other side of the Pike as we drove out and undoubtedly on other posters around the city.
The audience was in a similar state of anticipation, jamming the lobby by 7:00, perhaps also drawn by the hors d’oeuvres at the reception. Nelsons was greeted by an enormous ovation at his entrance, one which became even more enthusiastic after the overture to Tannhäuser beginning an all-Wagner first half of the program. Nelsons credits seeing a performance of this opera as a child (his first live opera experience) with setting him on the path to becoming a conductor, and this performance may have done the same for any budding young musicians in the audience. Thrills continued as Jonas Kaufmann sang “Im fernem Land” from Wagner’s Lohengrin in which the mysterious knight tells the story of the keepers of the Holy Grail and reveals his identity. The man sitting next to me remarked that Symphony Hall hadn’t heard a voice like that for a long time. Nelsons’ wife, Kristine Opolais, a major star in her own right, followed with more Wagner, the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.
The second half of the program had more opera: Turiddu’s tearful farewell in Cavalleria Rusticana, “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly and two love duets from Manon Lescaut and La bohème, all magnificently sung. The concert concluded with an orchestral showpiece, The Pines of Rome by Respighi. The audience left with continuing high expectations for Andris Nelsons as Music Director.
The really good news is that you don’t have to be envious of John and me for the great performances we heard last week; you can hear them as well, right here on New England Public Radio. Recordings of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s concert will be available to us in a few weeks, and we’ll broadcast them as soon as they are. And you don’t have to wait that long to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s opening night concert; it’s scheduled for broadcast this Sunday afternoon. Tune in at 1:00, and don’t forget that Cheryl Willoughby will have classical music on NEPR beginning at 10:00 each Sunday morning with a full season of BSO broadcasts to follow.