What a pleasure to see an orchestra playing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on risers! The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened its Washington season last night, and there were the brasses, the woodwinds, the double basses and percussion, even three of the cellos, up on steps that made it possible to see the orchestra as well as hear it. And the difference is both visual and audible. Would that the excellent idea were repeated as a matter of course!
Music director Seiji Ozawa chose his program with great imagination. In this, the BSO's centenary season, there were two symphonies intimately associated with the orchestra: the Third by William Schuman, which had its world premiere under Serge Koussevitsky in 1941, and the Eighth by Dvorak. It is a lovely coincidence that this is Dvorak's Opus 88, which is precisely the number of years since the Bostonians gave the work its U.S. premiere in 1892.
The Schuman symphony, written when the composer was 31, was played in honor of the composer's 70th anniversary this year. It is one of the greater glories of the symphonic literature of our time, a pivotal landmark in American orchestral writing. It is marked by Schuman's characteristic vigorous athleticism, a trait very like the disciplined control of a Borg or Nicklaus. Flawlessly written for a great orchestra -- the BSO -- it has heart as well as intellect. The flute and trumpet solos in the chorale, echoed in the muted trumpets toward the end of the movement, are deeply moving. The closing toccata has biting wit and magnificent cumulative power.
The performance was on the brilliant side, with each orchestral choir displaying its particular brand of splendor. This was especially true of the massed strings that tower over later pages. Ozawa had the entire score at his fingertips.
The opening overture, Berlioz's Corsair, was a tour de force, while the Dvorak symphony was full of felicitous dynamic shadings. It is good to have the Boston Symphony with us during its big birthday year.