This concert was the idea of local flutist Julie Scolnik, who is herself a breast-cancer survivor. (It should be noted that this affliction strikes men as well as women.) She was able to get no less a conductor than Sir Simon Rattle, who along with his 77 orchestral players contributed their services without fee.
By Caldwell Titcomb.
An extraordinary evening of music-making took place in Jordan Hall on December 5: a benefit entitled “Concert for the Cure: Rhythms of Hope” to assist the work of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, established in 1982 in memory of a 36-year-old, breast-cancer victim. The Massachusetts Affiliate, set up in 2001, is one of 126 branches spread across the U.S. and Europe. Three quarters of the Massachusetts organization’s funds go to further education, screening, and treatment within our commonwealth.
This concert was the idea of local flutist Julie Scolnik, who is herself a breast-cancer survivor. (It should be noted that this affliction strikes men as well as women.) She was able to get no less a conductor than Sir Simon Rattle, who along with his 77 orchestral players contributed their services without fee. About a third of the players were members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the rest coming from other ensembles.
Rattle (b. 1955) served as conductor of the Birmingham Symphony from 1980 to 1998, raising that orchestra to one of the world’s best. Since 2002 he has been chief conductor and artistic director of the celebrated Berlin Philharmonic. For this occasion Sir Simon and many of the players were wearing the red lapel symbols of the fight against breast cancer.
The concert opened with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G-Major, K. 453, written in 1784 for one of the composer’s pupils, Barbara Ployer. Here the soloist was the French Canadian and internationally active Marc-André Hamelin (b. 1961). In his extensive discography, this is his only Mozart recording. His playing was crisp and elegant throughout, and one admired his beautifully even running scales in the third movement, which ends with a presto section reminiscent of a Mozart opera finale. It was a pleasure too to hear Mozart’s lovely writing for the woodwind.
Julie Scolnik, the event’s organizer, then came forward to speak briefly to the audience, during which Rattle sat on stage in the back of the violin section. He then returned to the podium to conduct the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, scored just for strings and harp (Jessica Zhou, principal harpist of the Boston Symphony). Written in 1901–02, when Mahler was courting Alma Schindler, who would soon become his wife, this movement has been considered a “love letter,” but it has also functioned as a memorial piece—like Samuel Barber’s Adagio—after a notable death. Different conductors have opted for unusual latitude in settling on a tempo—ranging from eight and a half minutes to 12 and a half minutes. Sir Simon was in the middle, taking exactly 10 minutes. He elicited a rich sonority, rising to passionate intensity in the midsection. The score was on the stand in front of him, but he never had to turn a page.
Concluding the concert was the second of Brahms’ four symphonies, all of which sit at the top of symphonic composition. I have always seen an analogy with the seasons. The First suggests the spring, the Third is autumnal, and the Fourth is wintry. The Second, in D Major, is the sunniest, like summer. There was no stand for a score, for Sir Simon last year issued all four symphonies with his Berliners and knows them thoroughly by heart. He shaped the work superbly all the way, goading the players when necessary. Sometimes he shifted his baton from the right hand to the left. The result was a glorious performance that ended in an appropriate blaze of hope.
There was time for only one afternoon rehearsal, but that proved fully enough. One had the sense that all the instrumentalists were thrilled to have the opportunity to play under such a sovereign conductor.
Those who missed this concert can learn about its inspiration here.