“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra plays Britten, Tchaikovsky, Ives, and Ravel

Jonathan Blumhofer - The Arts Fuse
Concert Reviews — March 7, 2024

How does a conductor celebrate his 85th birthday? Well, if you’re Benjamin Zander you tune up the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) and take the stage at Symphony Hall with a program no group of adolescents ought to be playing, let alone rendering creditably.

At least, that’s how it went on Sunday afternoon for Zander, whose big day arrives March 9th, and his young charges. Their lineup of works by Benjamin Britten, Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, and Ravel was one of the freshest things – on paper or in practice – to turn up at Symphony Hall this season. Best of all, the concert (which was also streamed) brought back an old friend in the form of pianist Anna Fedorova.

Fedorova made her local debut with the BPYO in 2018, playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. On Sunday, she took up another Romantic staple, Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto.

If ever there’s a pianist meant to perform this fare, it’s her. Playing with sumptuous tone, bold strokes of character, and no shortage of electricity, Fedorova offered a rhapsodic account of this favorite.

The sprawling first movement unfolded in sweeping, improvisational-sounding paragraphs, while the pianist’s precise, playful delivery of the Andantino’s fast middle section neatly framed the songful reveries in its outer thirds. Meanwhile, the boisterous finale’s headlong, driving thrills never came at the expense of the music’s dancing impetus.

Throughout, Fedorova’s phrasings were the picture of flexibility: shapely and unpredictable but never fussy or wanting for direction. Her voicings, too, always ensured that the melodic line didn’t get lost in the Concerto’s dense layers of filigree.

In a word, Fedorova’s reading of the Tchaikovsky and her encore of Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz were demonstrations of old-school, Romantic performance practice at its best.

As a conductor, Zander is often about drawing out the naturally breathing musical line. So he proved here, leading the BPYO in a fluent, rubato-filled, well-balanced accompaniment, an unexpected highlight of which was the orchestra’s lean realization of the finale’s syncopated theme.

The ensemble had the stage to themselves for the rest of the afternoon.

Their account of Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England, dedicated to the late John Heiss, boasted a combination of warmth and textural lucidity one doesn’t always encounter in this composer’s music, especially in “The ‘St. Gaudens’ on Boston Common” and “The Housatonic at Stockbridge.” “Putnam’s Camp” emerged, aptly, as a riot of sound, bluster, and good humor.

The Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis at Chloé, a work that Zander noted, the Boston Symphony all but owns, sounded in this young orchestra’s hands fully BSO-worthy. Throughout, the BPYO’s woodwind playing was superb, especially Sadie Goodman’s solos in the “Pantomime.”

Likewise engaging were the “Four Sea Interludes” from Britten’s Peter Grimes, which emerged with spirit and color, both in delicate movements (the mesmeric “Dawn”) and violent ones (the teeming “Storm”).

As a youth, Zander studied with Britten and the afternoon’s program included a reprint of charming photos of the pair at a cricket match, circa 1950. Sunday’s performance was a fitting tribute to that relationship, as well as to the great composer’s continuing influence on his former pupil’s career.


Click here to listen to the Britten.
Click here to listen to the Tchaikovsky.
Click here to listen to the Ives.
Click here to listen to the Ravel.

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