Last night felt like a pretty successful performance of the piece — all our hard work paid off. Something I realized, though, as the orchestra tuned up and I looked out at a Hall that was at best about two-thirds full… Holiday Pops performances are for the crowd, but BSO performances are for the music. They can like it or leave it — and, yes, a few people got up and left in the middle of the piece, and I think some did not return after intermission — but we’re performing it because the music must be performed.
The first review has come in. Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe, known for being a bit curmudgeonly about the Boston music scene, wrote a review briefly praising the performances of the soloist, conductor, and choruses:
The soloist (here the excellent Christopher Maltman)…. The performance under Davis was exemplary, with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in particular doing superb work with such a demanding score.
He spends most of the review criticizing the piece compositionally,
MacMillan’s work has many fascinating moments and some inspired passages of choral and instrumental writing. But last night the score, to these ears, did not add up to more than the sum of its parts….
But it was hard to discern a unifying compositional voice amidst the deluge of influences (from Bach to Lutoslawski). MacMillan has a knack for theatrical gestures, but the parts I found most compelling were the least pictorial moments, when the composer freed himself from literal representation of the narrative and let his formidable sonic imagination roam, as in the absorbing final movement, full of muscular and expansive orchestral writing. MacMillan generally struggled to draw out the universal tropes from the particulars of this narrative, but when he did, the work blossomed, as in the music written for the poignant meeting of Jesus and his mother.
I will agree on one thing … I don’t think the music has a unifying compositional voice amidst the deluge of influences.. I’m not sure it’s intended to. MacMillan effectively told us that himself when he sat and spoke with us, that he was influenced from a lot of different musical directions, that this is what happens when liturgical chant and opera (and Scottish traditions) collide. The difference of course is I think it works, and Eichler does not.
Another article appeared in the Berkshire Review this morning, but it was a preview article. It reviews the London Symphony Orchestra recording, “whether or not you are going to the BSO performances this week.” It also had some prophetic words as well:
The first question—unfortunately—even relatively experienced listeners of contemporary music ask is “just who is this guy?” which can be translated as “is he conservative or experimental? Am I going to be able to sit through it?” Last week at Carnegie Hall I saw a few people walk out at the prospect of twelve minutes of Schoenberg. At ninety minutes MacMillan’s Passion will require somewhat more patience, but I can reassure the fearful that anyone who is familiar with Britten will be comfortable with MacMillan, although his style ranges freely from medieval models to the harshly dissonant and the microtonal. I believe the audience will be struck by the Passion as an intense dramatic narrative alternating with the contemplative, which is already inherent in much of the Catholic and Protestant Good Friday liturgies, as well as J. S. Bach’s Lutheran treatments.