BSO, Kavakos stumble in disoriented evening

November 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm

By David Wright

Violinist-conductor Leonidas Kavakos performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night.

Thursday night in Symphony Hall, during the opening tutti of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4, K. 218, the first piece on a Boston Symphony Orchestra program led by violinist and conductor Leonidas Kavakos, the orchestra sounded rudderless, as if awaiting word from their leader about how to shape Mozart’s distinctive themes.

One could write that off to one person trying to be conductor and soloist at the same time. Sometimes that arrangement works and sometimes it doesn’t. It wasn’t necessarily an indication of anything to come.

If only. In fact, during much of a brief but uncomfortable evening in which Kavakos also led performances of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, “Classical,” and Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major, the BSO sounded less like a storied ensemble than a middling high-school orchestra, feeling its way, struggling to play together, and unable to communicate much emotion other than disorientation.

It’s pointless to criticize a cake that fell, so this review won’t dwell on the pallid Mozart, the plodding Prokofiev, or the Schumann that wandered in the wilderness for page after page. It’s the bad nights that teach us to appreciate the good ones.

This outcome was unexpected, since the Greek-born violinist was successful last year in a similar conductor-soloist engagement with the BSO. Perhaps it’s significant that the concerto then was Bach’s hard-driving D minor, an easier piece to keep together than Mozart’s subtle D major.

In fact, bright spots in Thursday’s program seemed to occur around those moments when driving rhythms marshaled the troops almost in spite of themselves. Schumann’s first-movement coda generated a good deal of excitement, and, after the first violin section oiled up their fingers for the brilliant Prokofiev finale, the violinist-conductor stood them all up for a rare, and deserved, “solo” bow.

Soloist and orchestra also performed well in one situation where momentum was no help at all, deftly handling the constant shifts of tempo and meter in the capricious finale of Mozart’s concerto.

In instances where music was repeated, such as Schumann’s scherzo with two trios, the second time around usually went better than the first, and the third better still. One can only hope this is good news for ticketholders to subsequent performances.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday. bso.org; 617-266-1200.

Posted in Performances


One Response to “BSO, Kavakos stumble in disoriented evening”

  1. Posted Nov 15, 2013 at 9:07 pm by J.A. Bohart

    This performance was phenomenal & most surely the best BSO event I have attended in recent memory. The conductor/violinist is a virtuoso & he was able to draw out of the orchestra an intensity and passion that was first rate. It is so unfortunate that this reviewer conveys a string of negatives in his summary. Clearly, and sadly, he missed the entire point of the program.
    A standing ovation & three encores certainly demonstrated how deeply the audience was moved by the performance.