Boston — One of my great joys as a traveler is the chance to hear great music in great halls. Recently I was able to hear the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall for the first time. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the BSO at Tanglewood three times over the past two summers, including a 2017 concert I review here. But hearing them in Symphony Hall, as you might expect, is a dramatically different experience.
Symphony Hall, built in 1900, is renowned for its acoustics, and they are remarkable, given the building’s age—its age by Texas standards, that is; by Boston standards it’s practically new construction. The lobby of the hall is a warren of small, relatively low-ceilinged rooms, but the hall itself is breathtaking. Beethoven’s name is prominently inscribed directly above the stage, and sixteen replicas of Greek and Roman statues line the loge walls. It is a beautiful place to see and hear music.
The program included music by both Mendelssohn siblings, Fanny and Felix: her Overture in C and his Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, with soloist Ingrid Fliter, and Dvořák Symphony No. 8 in G, led by former Assistant Conductor Shi-Yeon Sung. The Boston Symphony is consistently ranked as among the top five in the US. Hearing the orchestra inside Symphony Hall, rather than in the covered outdoor space at Tanglewood, it was easy to hear why.
The strings were remarkably cohesive. It wasn’t merely that each section operated as a unit. The sections connected with each other, too, and phrasing, tone, and intonation were as one: the aural equivalent of watching a flock of blackbirds wheeling and turning in perfect formation.
The winds and brass are not on risers; instead, the stage is slightly sloped. Perhaps as a result, Principal Flute Elizabeth Rowe’s sound was unusually warm, and from my seat on the orchestra floor, other winds blended into the orchestra more than we’re used to hearing in concerts at the Meyerson or even Bass Hall.
The BSO’s trumpet section is stellar, with a golden, full sound. Principal Trumpet Thomas Rolfs was exceptional Saturday night. Horns were not quite as remarkable on Saturday’s hearing, but lower brass and percussion also excelled.
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Overture in C is worth a hearing, if only for its historical merits. Mendelssohn-Hensel’s only orchestral work didn’t strike me on first hearing as particularly original or interesting, but its composer’s story needs to be known—she is one of many women artists whose talent was neglected in favor of developing her skills as a wife, while of course her brother Felix was encouraged, and flourished.
Ingrid Fliter, in her performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1, demonstrated ample technique and attractive phrasing. The second movement, marked Andante, was a bit soporific rather than contemplative—it could have had more life. Still, the cheering and multiple curtain calls were well-earned.
But it was the Dvořák that stole the show. With the exception of some minor ensemble issues in the third movement, this was a thrilling performance of one of the staples of the repertoire. It seemed to go by in a flash, so absorbed was I in this delightful music-making.
There is lots to do and see in Boston, but if you’re planning a visit, check the Boston Symphony’s schedule before you go; hearing the BSO in Symphony Hall will surely be a highlight of your visit.