It's hard to believe, but I'm in the Boston Globe again -- twice. Sometimes I
think I should send Kim Smedvig, the BSO's chief publicist, a bottle of champagne, with a
note saying, "Thanks for keeping my name in the paper!"
Though my most recent Globe
appearance -- a delightful one -- isn't Kim's doing. On Friday, February 12, Bernard
Holland, the chief music critic of the New York Times, wrote a dubious review of
a Boston Symphony performance in New York. And because, I think, of my earlier review, the
Globe thought Bernard's view was news.Here's what the paper printed on February
13, in its "Names and Faces" feature:
NOTES FOR SEIJI
Seiji Ozawa's 25th year as music director of the BSO isn't all parties
and applause. Ozawa got another whack from an out-of-town newspaper yesterday when New
York Times critic Bernard Holland reviewed a BSO concert at Carnegie Hall. Back in
December, Wall Street Journal critic Greg Sandow attacked Ozawa as a leader and
musician and trashed the orchestra's current state. Yesterday Holland noted that Ozawa's
quarter-century anniversary is "a milestone cheered by some, though others are
restless for change." He said the program for the evening - Beethoven's Violin
Concerto (with Anne-Sophie Mutter) and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" - had
"a certain weariness that no amount of professional application to the duties at hand
could disguise." As for the Stravinsky in particular, Holland said: "Mr. Ozawa
made it sound almost vulgar."
If I hadn't put the BSO's problems on the agenda, would the Globe have
run this? A top administrator of another major American orchestra told me, approvingly,
that my piece would have long-term effects. Maybe he was right. (Many thanks to Kathy
Walunas, who sent me this latest Globe item.)
Here's the full text of Bernard's review:
OZAWA AND THE BOSTON OFFER AN EVENING OF THE
By Bernard Holland
The Boston Symphony paid one of its regular visits to Carnegie Hall on
Wednesday night. Advertised is Seiji Ozawas 25th anniversary as music director. It
is a milestone cheered by some, though others are restless for change. Here the program
was solid and straightforward: the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter and
Stravinskys "Rite of Spring."
Those of us who follow music create in our
memories identifying images of different orchestras. The Boston sound that I think of has
brilliance without flash, and elegance without a trace of coyness. At its best, this
historic organization has played with a glow and power that readily distinguished it from
other American orchestras.
Listening to the Beethoven on Wednesday one heard
other things. One was a certain weariness that no amount of professional application to
the duties at hand could disguise. The shine seemed missing from the violin sections and
at times communal intonation soured ever so slightly.
Here as in the Stravinsky, the Bostons winds
and brass showed what fine players they are. The clear, rich woodwinds spoke with special
empathy for this unusual bit of Beethoveniana Indeed, the Violin Concerto is perhaps the
least obsessive and most.materially generous of the great mans major pieces. The
first movement, in particular, moves at a stroll. Beethovens parsimony -- the tight,
relentless grip on a few ideas -- relents; theme after theme pours out. We know the
major-minor shifts are coming, but they never fail to take the breath away.
Ms. Mutter, with her wonderful control of the
instrument and big, broad ideas, prefers grandeur to intimacy, and it is certainly her
right to do so. She is a master of extremes breathless pianissimos, ringing vibrato,
striking ritards and accelerandos at key moments. These are observations, not criticisms.
Ms. Mutters bigness is never bloated; she simply sets a wider stage than most and
then proceeds to occupy it handsomely.
The Stravinsky performance could have used Ms.
Mutters sense of proportion. The brief melodic phrases were thick to the ear,
stretched and contracted with a kind of Stokowskian languor. Everything else was simply
loud. "The Rite of Spring" is, of course, weighted away from traditional
orchestral string sound, but Mr. Ozawas brass-heavy balancing of instruments seemed
specifically designed to obliterate all competition while exploiting surface excitement
for its own sake. This great piece is more than cheap thrills. Mr. Ozawa made it sound
My other new Globe appearance was yet another slash from
Richard Dyer, the paper's music critic. On February 5, he interviewed Jacques Zoon, the
BSO's principal flutist. Down towards the bottom of the piece, this paragraph showed up:
Like many other musicians in the orchestra, Zoon was astonished at the attack on the
level of its playing that appeared in The Wall Street Journal late last year. ''I was
really surprised at this; it seemed so unfair. No orchestra sounds every week the same -
it depends on so many factors and on so many different individuals. I find it particularly
terrible that Seiji Ozawa has been so misjudged. He is always listening and reacting to
what he hears; he is always really communicating with the orchestra. Other conductors have
such strong ideas about the pieces they are leading that they never listen to what is
actually coming out of the musicians. I find that the Concertgebouw and the BSO are very
similar in culture. Of course there are differences because different people are there,
but the orchestras are somehow the same - there is something prestigious in the sound that
gives it its special character, something golden.''
Sure, Richard. And many of the musicians support me. (Or as I was told by a
well-connected source a week after the Zoon interview came out: "You have a cheering
section.") Richard, of course, knows just as well as I do that many members of the
BSO don't like Ozawa, and probably knows better than I do who they all are. Would he
consider trying just a little journalism, and interviewing one or two of them, if only for
balance? (Many thanks to Stuart Hyke, for sending Dyer's text to me.)