Boston Symphony Honors Old World And Young Talent

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Latvian composer Arturs Maskats bows at the premiere of ‘My River runs to thee’ at the Boston Symphony. Music director Andris Nelsons, also Latvian, led the work honoring a late colleague at Latvian National Opera. (Photos by Hilary Scott)
By Keith Powers

BOSTON – The story lines connecting the latest Boston Symphony Orchestra program extend in many directions. A world premiere – Latvian composer Arturs Maskats’ “My River runs to thee.” Galina Grigorjeva’s contemporary choral piece “On Leaving,” spotlighting the revitalized Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The continuation of the BSO’s Grammy-winning Shostakovich recording cycle, with the composer’s seldom-heard Second Symphony, To October. And Tchaikovsky’s flamboyant violin concerto, with soloist Daniel Lozakovich making a Symphony Hall debut.

The works draw a rough geographic circle around BSO music director Andris Nelsons’ roots and influences. With “My River runs to thee” – the title comes from Emily Dickinson – Nelsons and Maskats pay tribute to a late colleague from the Latvian National Opera, Andrejs Žagars.

“My River runs to thee” begins in the quietest way, pppp percussion bringing the sound to life gradually. But this is no elegy. Elegant, tonal textures get explored by strings and winds, while percussion, especially recurring wood blocks, interject notably during the melodic forays.

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Solo lines emerge: clarinet, oboe, cello. Transitioning melodies get enhanced with fleeting counterpoint, but the percussion always stands out – not through excessive volume, but simply by cutting into the stylish surface. At fifteen minutes or so, “My River runs to thee” serves as a more than substantial program opener.

Galina Grigorjeva’s ‘On Leaving,’ for chorus, tenor, flute and percussion, incorporates elements of Russian musical traditions.

Contemporary Estonian composer Galina Grigorjeva shares the same multifaceted Baltic musical language as Maskats – and Pärt, Kancheli and others – including the spare vocabulary. Her “On Leaving,” conducted by TFC director James Burton, with tenor, solo flutist, and percussionist, melds disparate facets like Russian Orthodox traditions, modern minimalistic textures, and older polyphonic styles.

“On Leaving” uses liturgical texts about death and burial; Grigorjeva sets each of the five sections differently. In one, tenor soloist Matthew Anderson etches out a moving cantor-like solo, with flute (Elizabeth Ostling) and choral underpinning. The TFC men sang alone brilliantly in one setting, as did the upper voices in another. The blended eight-voice chorus sang a cappella in evocative opening and closing sections.

Burton has remade the TFC since his appointment two years ago, following John Oliver’s four-decade tenure. Burton’s choices – controversial at first, in the way many veteran choristers were broomed out – have resulted in a lithe, flexible ensemble instrument. This was a rare chance for the chorus to have the Symphony Hall stage to themselves, and Burton did not waste it.

Nelsons, conducting Shostakovich’s Second Symphony, is in the midst of recording the complete Shostakovich cycle for DG.

Recording the complete symphonies of any composer requires including some less well-known works. Such is the case with Shostakovich’s Second Symphony, written in 1927 to commemorate Lenin and the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The symphony bears the stamp not only of a 21-year-old composing genius, but of the Party politics that were forced into his artistic decisions.

In two movements, the Second has elements of martial splendor, wild genius and, regrettably, lyrics supplied by Party propaganda. The second movement text, sung with proletarian enthusiasm by the TFC, includes lyrics like “Happiness in the fields and work benches” – that sort of thing.

The symphony emerges from a chaos of delicate, seemingly misplaced notions, coalescing into a muted fanfare that even includes a tuba solo. At times it sounds martial, rousing. At other times it has an industrial angst (instruments include a “hooter” – a factory siren). The brief symphony – two movements – certainly must have excited party loyalists, but still bears enough of Shostakovich’s adventurous musical stamp to transcend its programmatic necessities.

Daniel Lozakovich, 18, in his Symphony Hall debut with the BSO and Nelsons, first performed with them at Tanglewood.

Daniel Lozakovich epitomizes the prodigy. Now 18, he began playing the violin at 6, and two years later made his concerto debut. He performed a Mozart concerto with the BSO and Nelsons two years ago at Tanglewood, and here he tackled Tchaikovsky’s lush concerto.

This flawless Symphony Hall debut will do nothing to slow his career. Lozakovich’s approach was personal, but not contrived. He possesses formidable technique, especially his bowing arm. His cadenzas – a lengthy one to conclude the opening movement and a slighter affair to open the finale – were simultaneously thoughtful and playful.

A careful listener, Lozakovich played with the orchestra, not in front of it. This concerto loves its instrument, and Lozakovich loved it back. His reading was transparent and gracious, a model approach – not just for young soloists.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media, Opera News, and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com.