Later, John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma came out to present the first-ever Tanglewood medal to Seiji Ozawa, who couldn't be there. Ma read a letter of gratitude from Ozawa, who reminisced about being a Tanglewood fellow himself 52 years ago. "The world will always need places," he said, "that feed the soul and spirit."
One important participant I haven't mentioned yet is the up-and-coming 33-year-old Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (following in the footsteps of Sir Simon Rattle), who admitted, in a Boston Globe interview, that he was aware that he was a contender for the music directorship of the BSO, a possible replacement for James Levine. He'd filled in for the ailing maestro at Carnegie Hall, then cancelled his scheduled Symphony Hall debut to be with his wife during childbirth (in January, he'll be in Boston doing Shostakovich and Tchaikowsky). His inauspicious Tanglewood debut was expertly supporting Mutter with the student orchestra.
But he also led the BSO itself in a vivid and mercurial Ravel La valse, each change in tempo and color depicting a different aspect of Viennese life, ending in the cataclysm of World War I. Some people felt he was micromanaging, losing tension with his excessive, almost feral gestures. But I found the Ravel fresh and compelling and overflowing with ideas.
Having survived the gala, Nelsons the next day conducted his own concert. But Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, a setting of three psalms in Latin for chorus and orchestra (without violins or violas), may have suffered from too much "interpretation," where wave upon wave of nuanced dynamics distracted from Stravinsky's relentless hieratic momentum. A conductor with Bernard Haitink's austere detachment and singularity of vision can be more powerful here.
But the unfolding, moment-to-moment detail in Nelsons's Brahms Symphony No. 2 slowly exposed the built-in tensions between Brahms's songful pastoral charm and his profound melancholy. In the end, joy triumphed, but the victory was hard-won and heroic, and in a continual state of mesmerizing flux. This audience was smaller than the one at the sold-out gala, but the loud roar and standing ovation suggested that they may have come away with more.
Mark Morris's Walton and Sitwell
A few weeks earlier, before the official start of the Tanglewood season, the Mark Morris Dance Group came to Seiji Ozawa Hall with a program that featured some unusual music — all performed live, of course, this time by the gifted student fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center.
But maybe it was too early to expose these young musicians to the public. The student orchestra at the gala was by then quite a well-oiled operation. But the students playing for Morris the Schubert single-movement piano trio, a sublime Adagio, in a piece for four dancers called Rock of Ages, were too uninflected for the subtle interplay between dancers and musicians that's the hallmark of Mark Morris performances.
It was good to hear another performance of Hummel's Piano Trio No. 5, the delightful work to which Morris's 2011 Festival Dance is set. But again, the professional musical performance when the company was in Boston in May for the Celebrity Series was superior to the student performance at Seiji Ozawa Hall. So in Boston, the entire dance had more lift.