Arts concert review

An angry piece, an interesting trumpet concerto, and a wonderful symphony

The BSO performs Gubaidulina, Glanert, and Prokofiev.

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BSO Principal Trumpet Thomas Rolfs plays Detlev Glanert's Trumpet Concerto

Week 21: Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Wrath of God, Detlev Glanert’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4, Op. 47 

Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) 

Conducted by Andris Nelsons 

Thomas Rolfs on Trumpet 

Boston Symphony Hall

April 27, 2024

The BSO performed an eclectic selection of pieces on Saturday, April 27. This concert was unique not only for its relatively recent repertoire but also for being a trumpet concerto. While concertos exist for most, if not all, instruments, the most famous ones are piano and violin concertos. As a result, this performance was memorable for its novel and unconventional works of music. 

The concert began with Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Wrath of God, a piece dedicated to Beethoven on his 250th anniversary. The piece started off with a very loud opening line from the tuba that had an underlying sinister energy, as if the sound came from a powerful supernatural force. However, the brass section’s strong melody initially overpowered the strings section. 

The dynamics between the strings and brass section were interesting because their dissonant melodies and crescendo helped further develop the ominous feeling that perfectly captured a divine force’s extreme anger. The other instruments in the orchestra contributed to this agitated atmosphere, from the flute’s high-pitched screeches to the violin’s forceful, deliberate bowing. 

The ending lacked cohesion due to the various distinct timbres and instruments playing different time values, which made the piece feel somewhat chaotic. Despite deviating from the traditional format of a finale, the piece closed off well with a pervading glockenspiel melody. The bright timbre made the piece end on a more hopeful and optimistic note, a direction different from the primarily tense climate. Overall, The Wrath of God did a wonderful job encapsulating this suspenseful and apocalyptic mood, though the cacophony and themes felt somewhat repetitive at times. 

Next was Glanert’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, a BSO commission piece composed in 2019 for BSO Principal Trumpet Thomas Rolfs. The concerto was memorable in highlighting the trumpet’s diverse range of timbres, proving that a trumpet is more than just an instrument that takes on a loud, brassy role in an orchestra. For instance, Rolfs used a mute for the trumpet in “Rites,” making the trumpet take on a more raspy and reedy voice. Although the mute made the trumpet sound less bright, hearing the muted trumpet’s contrasting timbre was fascinating for its jazzy feeling. 

Rolfs’ rendition of the trumpet solo in “Songs” was impressive for playing long stretches of melody while smoothly transitioning between quick breaths. Compared to the jocular and energetic “Rites,” his solo in “Songs” was more lyrical, as he played in deep contemplation. The other instruments produced sounds that complemented well with the trumpet, like the slides on the violin that were analogous to the wah-wah sound effect played by a brass instrument. 

The concerto ended splendidly with the instruments coming together all at once. People in the audience gave a standing ovation, and Rolfs responded by brandishing his two trumpets in the air. When composer Detlev Glanert came up to the stage, there was another warm round of applause. 

The concert ended with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4, Op. 47, an orchestral work based on the ballet Prodigal Son. Unlike the first movements in other symphonies that follow an allegro tempo, this symphony began at andante assai, a slower pace than usual. Despite this difference, Andante assai was wonderful to listen to for its mellow and calming effect, especially the otherworldly sounds from the flute and woodwinds that paint a peaceful horizon. Then, the movement undergoes a magnificent transformation, transitioning to Allegro and ending with the bright, celebratory sounds of the brass instruments. 

Andante tranquillo returns to this familiar mood in Andante assai, as the woodwinds have a sweet melody. Moderato, on the other hand, is enjoyable for its playful nature. The light pizzicato in the strings has a tip-toey feeling, while the call and response among the various instruments like the violin and clarinet make the piece more light-hearted. The last movement, Allegro risoluto, was brimming with energy that came in waves, gradually building up to a strong finale. Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4 was outstanding because of significant contrasts in sounds across the four movements, from the soothing flute solo in Andante tranquillo to the boisterous character in Allegro risoluto. 

Although the performance began with unfamiliar sounds that were harsh for the ear, as a whole, the listening experience was enriching for its various colors.