April 15th Saturday | Mitsuko Uchida, Andris Nelsons and BSO | Boston, MA
Finally it feels like spring in Boston, and I’m happy to venture out again for a treat at the BSO with Mozart and Bruckner. Well, maybe not the latter. I was a little skeptical about Bruckner, since our last (and only) encounter did not end on a high note (or mid note for that matter). But I think it’s time to give him another chance.
The first half of the program is delivered by the marvelous Mitsuko Uchida. I’m always amazed by her sartorial selection (more than by her artistry). She wears almost the same outfit every time: a gossamer-like cardigan/cover, and I’m curious where she goes shopping. The last time I saw her was exactly three years ago at Hertz Hall, a chilly spring evening in Berkeley. She played a late Schubert sonata in the first half and the whole 33 Diabelli Variations—what a woman! I sat on the stage, only 10 feet away from this skinny Japanese lady. As tiny as she is, her energy was formidable and kept me in constant suspense. Today, sitting on the second balcony, the farthest seat from stage I’ve ever gotten, I felt the energy attenuated partially by the program partially by the distance. But Uchida is amicable and whimsical to stir up the air in between. Mozart is her natural habitat.
During intermission I took a walk outside the Symphony Hall. It was windy and drizzly but not too cold. The weather in Boston puzzles me. They say tomorrow will get to 80 degrees, seriously? I looked across the street. In the distance the top of Prudential Center was in blue and yellow, ready for Patriots’ Day. I’m slowly feeling attached to this city as I’m about to leave for a year. I didn’t bring my coat, and it got chilly after a while. I went inside, and soon the lights started blinking—time to take my seat.
I needed that bit of fresh air, for the Bruckner.
Also three years ago, just three weeks before I witnessed Uchida’s tour de force, I heard Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony for the first time—coincidentally with the same conductor but a different orchestra. That early March day Andris Nelsons graciously stepped in for Franz Welser-Möst at the last minute (although regrettably having to cut Staud’s piece inspired by Bruno Schulz). That Sunday matinée Nelsons conducted Vienna Phil also in a Mozart/Bruckner program. Perhaps I was overly excited about the whole weekend, and towards the last day of Vienna Phil’s residency I was truly exhausted. God forbid, I fell asleep in the middle of Bruckner (and sitting only three rows from the stage). For the past two years I felt guilty. I thought it was all my fault for missing perhaps the best Bruckner 6 performed by the same orchestra that premiered it over a century ago (guess who conducted it then). At the talk given by Andris Nelsons at Harvard this past Tuesday, he mentioned that the BSO includes at least one Bruckner symphony every season. Maybe his music really is that good, and I’m a dummy.
But tonight when the BSO started Bruckner 6, a familiar drowsiness hit me. It wasn’t my fault. It was the music. If one can ask Mahler why a symphony must be like the world and contain everything, perhaps I could also ask Bruckner why a symphony has to be this boring. Not even Nelsons and his BSO could savage a piece as uninteresting as Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. Most of the time during the second half I was circulating the same questions in my head: “What the hell is this? Why do I have to listen to it? Would it be rude if I leave now?” and da capo. I was jealous of the guy sitting behind me in the first half, who decided to leave after finding out how long the Bruckner piece would be. Lucky you, Mister! Rarely do I find classical music insufferable. As “old-schooled” as I am, not even Berg or Boulez repulses me, because at least they are interesting. Bruckner is an exception, but at least I did not fall asleep this time. I tried my best to make this music as entertaining as possible by invoking my wildest imagination, but it was in vain. Everything just spreads out like a flee market on a Sunday afternoon, because by then you know all the good stuff is already gone.
Finally near the end (fourth movement? don’t remember, it’s all the same) something grabbed my ears. Wait a minute, did I just hear Tristan? That can’t be. This music must be so terrible that it made me hallucinate. But when the melody burst out again from the brass section, I knew I heard it for sure. It was not my wild imagination. And this realization almost cracked me up. I tried very hard to restrain my laughter. Yes, it is Tristan (at least that’s how my brain recognized it), and you can’t pretend it’s not there by hiding it behind the strings, Herr Bruckner!
Why Tristan? Well, for a huge Wagner fan like Bruckner himself, inserting the Sehnsuchtsmotiv in his symphony is the least he could do for his idol. Allegedly Bruckner met Wagner for the first time at the premiere of Tristan, so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear some quotations in Bruckner’s own symphonies (I think they are everywhere, you just need to keep an ear up). So there’s no reason even to hide your admiration, we know you love him.
But still, I fail to understand why Mahler is Bruckner’s adamant supporter. Maybe one day I’ll find out, but before then, I’ll definitely keep a distance from his music for a while until the right moment comes. It took me almost 10 years to fall in love with Mahler. I guess I’ll wait and give Bruckner another try when I’m 30 plus. Deal.
P. S. Herr Bruckner, my unsoliticited opinion is by no means an offense to you or your fans out there (plenty I’m sure). There must be some hidden treasures, but for the short-sighted me, you are just very hard to like.
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466
Bruckner, Symphony No. 6 in A