Review: Boico leads ‘bittersweet’ CSO season finale

Review by Anthony Bannon

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Guest conductor Daniel Boico leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in the National Anthem Tuesday in the Amphitheater.

The perpetual motion of the 20th century — age of the Internet, speed and the bomb; of image and invention, for better or for worst, danced to an accelerated clock, ceaseless, relentless, stopping only on occasion, to catch a breath, to grieve, or for a night’s breeze, a dog’s bark, perhaps the last concert of the 2014 Chautauqua season.

Daniel Boico, formerly assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, presided with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Tuesday evening. His métier was perpetuum mobile, a popular concert mannerism of the late 19th century, carried on into the next century and brought forward in the Amphitheater with John Adams, Francis Poulenc and Arnold Schoenberg, the young maestro’s selections. He is among the eight candidates for the position of CSO Music Director.

And he cut right into it: quickly to the stage, dark suit and shirt, immediately with baton to the snare drum for the National Anthem, tradition here for beginnings and endings, Boico turning soon to summon more voice from the audience, a handy move in preparation for John Adams’ assertive remembrance, a fiction about Chairman and Madame Mao Tse-Tung.

It is difficult to declare who stole the show: it was owned by the moment, and the next, moment by moment, though Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, YouTube phenoms and a popular touring piano duo, held a good bit of it with Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor,” from 1932.

Poulenc, a studied Parisian bad boy, set a good stage for dazzle, and the composer kept going through three movements, returning to that promise of perpetual motion, with dissonance always over there, the tuba, for instance, asserting itself.

Roe was poised to make trouble, or talk back, or even offer a sweet gesture. She hovered over the keys like a bird ready to strike, her sheath dress of many colors foretelling a promise she made to the music. Roe and Anderson are all about color. They were inspired. Color and variegated moods defined their playing, Anderson straight-backed in a grey suit that could have been flannel, holding ground like the anchor store, but with a sense of gaiety and humor, as he turned his grand piano into a toy for the insouciance of the final movement, easily carrying the delight of a bubbly tour of Parisian night life, though always with a straight face.

Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe perform alongside the CSO, led by Boico.

Across the piano, on her side of the twinning, Roe danced her way through the piece, an accent to her stirring, always thrilling, sound, her arms at every opportunity extending the Balinese feel of the concerto into the social dance tradition of Bali, the aesthetically storied Indonesian island so influential in changing structures in Western Art during the last century. But no idle hands, no moss growing anyplace, Poulenc’s adventure demanded near constant presence for the two pianos, and Anderson and Roe took it on heroically.

The audience responded in kind. And they replied with more gallantry, a whirligig through Mozart, sampling from their newest album, An Amadeus Affair.

About the barking dog. Throughout the summer, a dog has sounded when least appropriate, interrupting Romance in the Amphitheater, usually mouthing off during a sweet adagio. This was the night for the dog. For the concert anticipated interruption, celebrated dissonance, looked forward to the unexpected. The night changed tempo, and broke rules — and no dog.

Not that a barking dog stood a chance against Adams. Adams was full orchestra full tilt most of the time, really playing hard at perpetual motion through several voices. Poulenc had lovely sections, melodic save the discordant horn beyond, gently rocking, sonorous, effervescence. But no dog.

The monster final work of the night, a half-marathon of 43 minutes, was the devoted modernization and full orchestration by another bad boy, Arnold Schoenberg, the transformative modernist from Vienna who re-wrote the scale, moving it from the comforts of the known into a 12-tone system easily given to atonally.

And of all things, Schoenberg chose to rewrite the late romantic grandeur of Johannes Brahms.

He picked on the master’s First Piano Quartet and remade it for a big orchestra.

The dog had to appear. It was the last chance.

And then to the right, the sound of a dog’s collar, and moving to the rear center, clink-clink-clink, then shaking himself loose, and, like Schoenberg, rightly so, and disappearing finally, off to the north. In a moment, likely on a cue from Dog Star in heaven, the dog spoke, between the second and third movements, several distant barks from afar, I think over by Smith Memorial Library. Work done, the dog was gone.

The dog was not to be heard again, the slow, lyric strings of the third uninterrupted, Brahms for all the heavens, gloriously lyric, and preserved for full orchestra by Schoenberg. It is the movement for all of time that signifies the emergent — youth, love, wind, the spring that Chautauqua now will await as auger for another season.

This third is Brahms/Schoenberg’s movement that receives from the lyric introduction the stately attitude of a march, energetic, tumbling subsequently through many themes, ultimately destabilizing. Maestro Boico took the CSO quite nicely through the changing moods, revealing them as a natural condition, where dissonance makes sense, and anticipating the difficult gypsy rhythms of the fast fourth movement with jaunty exuberance to the point where nothing it seems could be larger, the music holding all things within its embrace, with no place to go but into climax, a perpetual motion.

The man in front of me leapt to his feet, arms pumping the air, as if we had just won the game, and the lady behind me (I always listen to her) said “That was very nice,” because that is the way she speaks. Everyone was standing.

Maestro Boico very graciously solicited kudos for all players, many individually with a gesture or a handshake, and all by section, a sustained recognition. My program says Frederick Boyd performs at principal tuba. My intuitive applause meter suggested he won favor.

The sweep of Brahms, with dissonance rising, trombone in the ascendancy: Uplifting is the word, and I believe the audience appreciated that, heading back into their other worlds after concluding Chautauqua 2014.

Memories of Chairman Mao with John Adams, preposterously and perpetually dancing a fox trot through his afterlife; Poulenc through Paris with Anderson and Roe, concluding with Brahms, a twist of Schoenberg added, connecting to the succor of the 19th century. The remembrance, the whiff of tea and the Madeleine cookies of a comfortable time, now the memory of things past — though with the door opening on new ideas, dissonant perhaps — yearning for next year.

“Bittersweet,” commented Institution President Tom Becker, as he greeted the audience. “Understatement,” might say the dog — if words were his way.

Anthony Bannon is executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State and a research professor at the College. He had previously served as an arts writer for The Buffalo News and as director of George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.