Boston Symphony Orchestra Opening Night Gala Concert – Itzhak Perlman plays and conducts Beethoven

Romances for Violin and Orchestra – No.1 in G, Op.40; No.2 in F, Op.50
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Itzhak Perlman (violin)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 22 September, 2012
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall

Itzhak Perlman performs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 22 September 2012. Photograph: Stu RosnerItzhak Perlman joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as conductor and soloist for a relatively short but beautifully performed Beethoven program, part of “Opening Night at Symphony”, a sold-out gala evening which started off with a pre-concert cocktail reception for all attendees, held in the various rooms of Symphony Hall, and ended with a post-concert dinner for benefactor ticket-holders in a festively-decorated tent.

Since his 1966 BSO debut, Perlman has appeared many times as soloist, at Symphony Hall, at Tanglewood, on tour and on recordings. Prior to this concert, his only appearances as conductor with the BSO had been at Tanglewood, in an August 2000 program of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, and in August of 2011 when he doubled as soloist and conductor in another all-Beethoven selection.

Itzhak Perlman performs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 22 September 2012. Photograph: Stu RosnerThis gala concert began on a warmly comic note when Perlman, after sitting down and being handed his violin by BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, looked suspiciously at the instrument and then around his seat until Lowe handed him the bow, prompting chuckles from the largely black-tie audience. Once the giggles subsided, Perlman, sitting in a chair on a slightly-raised platform lined up next to the first violins, launched into the unconventional opening of Beethoven’s Romance in G: the unaccompanied violin’s wonderfully lyrical theme in double-stops before the orchestra makes its entry. Perlman’s playing was marvelously intimate and elegant. Next came its simpler but similarly toned sibling, in F, written two years before the G major piece. Perlman’s delicate playing had an extremely appealing air of chaste sweetness, and the BSO’s accompaniment in both of the modestly-scored pieces displayed a delightful, chamber-like feel.

The concert was played with no intermission, only a brief pause to exchange the soloist’s platform for a conductor’s podium. After Perlman had mounted it and made himself at home in his chair, he conducted a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, one that perfectly conveyed the exuberance and sensuality of the work. This was a briskly paced performance with particularly spirited outer movements. The Allegretto second movement and third-movement scherzo were also played quite fast and light, but with plenty of rhythmic resilience, above all in the Allegretto. Perlman and players perfectly captured the unrelenting, forward-driven, rhythmic impulses that characterize the work. The BSO musicians were all and always at-one with Perlman, but especially timpanist Timothy Genis, his crisp and powerful playing especially effective.

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