Boston Symphony: a strong season ahead

There is no question that it is vital to the artistic well- being of an orchestra and the future of music altogether to have new music aired regularly. Audiences then become used to the various idioms and eventually they can become true judges rather than agonized auditors.

Thus it was with some trepidation one awaited the announcement of how that productive institution, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was going to honor its centennial. For the fact is that under Seiji Ozawa's music directorship, the BSO has been neither a model for innovative programming nor a bastion of commitment to new music.

Happily, the centenary festivities -- to be spread across the next four seasons -- will include twelve commissions by an impressively broad spread of composers local, national, and international.

And the coming Boston season promises to be one of the most exciting of the year, especially since a cursory glance at many other orchestras' schedules for 1980-81 shows the BSO leagues ahead, where once it lagged painfully behind.

Under Ozawa, the orchestra is in magnificent condition. No matter who is on the podium, the members are playing with a luminosity of tone, and freedom of phrasing, and a technical prowess that supersedes even this orchestra's high standards.

The centennial season of any arts organization is a major event, particularly when that organization is the Boston Symphony.

Tradionally, the BSO has celebrated its anniversaries with impressive commissions -- ones that have given the music world Hindemith's "Konzertmusik" for Strings and Brass Instruments, Prokofiev's Fourth Symphony and Roussel's Third, Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms," Bernstein's Third Symphony, "Kaddish," and Milhaud's and Piston's Sixth Symphonies.

The list of other commissions and world premiere performances include such classics as Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra," Barber's "Knoxville -- Summer of 1915," Roy Harris's Third Symphony, Poulenc's "Gloria," and Walton's Cello Concerto. The list goes on and on, with numerous works that have made a niche for themselves in the annals of music history.

The newly announced list includes composers from America, Leonard Bernstein, John Harbison, Leon Kirchner, Peter Lieberson, John Corigliano, Roger Sessions, Olly Wilson, and Donald Martino; Britain's Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Michael Tippett, Hungarian composer Sandor Balassa, and Andrzej Panufnik from Poland.

Six symphonies are planned, including Mr. Davies' Second Symphony (to be premiered Feb. 26, 1981, and then heard in New York in March). Mr. Corigliano's piece will be for the Boston Pops, Mr. Martino's for the outstanding Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Tippett is planning a large- scale work for four soloists, chorus, and orchestra. It bodes very well indeed. The BSO will also celebrate its 100th with a nationwide tour in March of 1981.

The BSO programmers have not forgotten the huge list of US premieres by the orchestra. It includes (to barely scratch the surface) Britten's "Peter Grimes" and "War Requiem," Debussy's "La Mer," Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain," the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, Walton's "Belshazzar's Feast," and on and on.

The next four seasons will see many of these pieces performed along with works of composers whose important anniversaries are coming around. This next season, Bartok's 100th birthday will be honored by performances of all three piano concertos, the "Concerto for Orchestra," and the opera "Bluebeard's Castle." Aaron Copland (who had a very special relation with the BSO for a while) turns 80, Ernest Bloch would have been 100, and the 75-year-old William Schuman will also be represented.

In the Donald Martino's 12-tone Piano Concerto heard recently, the BSO proved anew that there is little it cannot manage with grace and security. This work -- which was some eight years in the making -- has not been heard since its world premiere in New Haven in 1966.

In the case of the Martino, there is a definite communication problem. The entire work lacks a readily identifiable thread -- it sounds contrived most of the time. Martino, for all his skill at evoking orchestral color and pitting the piano skillfully against a full ensemble, never tugs at the heart, never really grabs on a theatrical or even a purely intellectual level.

But the performance was committed. Ozawa saw to that, and so did Mr. Peltzer. All composers should be so blessed as to have as fierce an advocate as Dwight Peltzer, who almost made one believe that this work shared as the dramatic cohesion and the soul common to all the great examples of the form.

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