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Masur brings the light
Plus BU Opera’s Idomeneo

The BSO completes its extraordinary run of world premieres next week when Kurt Masur returns to conduct the first performances of Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Light of the End. This work will share the bill with two canonical Russian symphonies, Prokofiev’s Classical and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique.

Gubaidulina’s music is known for its brooding atmosphere, unusual instrumental combinations, and intense spirituality. And Masur, former music director of the New York Philharmonic, has conducted many of her works, including several other premieres. " Every piece of hers has a very special meaning, " he says over the phone from London, where he’s just finished a tour with the London Philharmonic, of which he is now principal conductor. " She is someone who is always looking to make connections. I asked her to compose a double concerto for two violas for my violists in New York, and I just told her that they are very close friends, very different in character. I didn’t tell her more, and then she found the story of Maria and Martha in the Bible and gave them the profiles of those two sisters. This is very typical for her. "

In a program note, Gubaidulina writes that the work’s title comes from " the bright sound of the antique cymbals that bring the coda of this piece to a close. " But to the conductor the title seems almost Beethovenian in its imagery of fulfillment through struggle. " I imagine it will relate somehow to the old story of per aspera ad astra — ‘Through the sorrows of life to the stars, " he says thoughtfully. The form is one of constant shifts between serenity and storm. " It’s very exhausting, but I find reading the score very convincing and exciting. She is able to give us riddles, but you feel she has a very clear idea of what she wants to talk about. Also, very often she knows exactly how to bring an audience into a very special kind of mood or imagination. She never writes a note without meaning. "

Asked why he placed her music in the context of two other Russian composers, Masur insists that his point was philosophical, not geographic. " I have the feeling that Gubaidulina is always aware of the importance as a human being of knowing that life has an end. And that even if it’s very beautiful and you try to remain, there will come an end. " A similar premonition of death infuses Tchaikovsky’s final work as well, and Masur says that he could envision a sonic as well as an emotional connection, even without having heard the new work. " I could imagine that it [Light] would end by getting silent. And with this mystery starts the Pathétique. "

Prokofiev’s cheerful, tuneful First Symphony also has something to offer on the connection between life and death, Masur argues, because the composer used its Gavotte in his ballet for " the great story of life and death, " Romeo and Juliet. " So even the freshness of the Classical Symphony cannot bring you out of this kind of beautiful, poetic but also mysterious slow music. " The program, he insists, " has nothing to do with Russia. It has to do with the people who have a similar philosophy of life. "

Right now Masur’s own philosophy of life seems to involve keeping busy more than anything else. A few days after we speak, he’ll be off to Paris for concerts with the Orchestre National de France, of which he is also music director. And he will open this year’s Tanglewood Festival with the BSO. " I remember the very first concert I gave at Tanglewood with the BSO was the last three Mozart symphonies. It was a great experience. I was thrilled that on a Sunday afternoon for three Mozart symphonies, 30,000 people came. I never experienced that before in Europe or anywhere else! "

Of even greater moment, perhaps, are three weeks of concerts with the New York Philharmonic in late April and May. The circumstances of Masur’s departure from New York were uncomfortable, to say the least: he was forced out by the orchestra’s board before he had wanted to leave. Yet he appears to bear no ill will and is eager to conduct ‘his’ orchestra again: " We said farewell in a condition of great love, and so I’m quite sure I will find my old Philharmonic back when I come. "

Kurt Masur conducts the BSO next Thursday through Saturday, April 17 through 19, at 8 p.m. at Symphony Hall. Tickets are $25-$90; call (617) 266-1200.

ALL HAIL THE KING. The opera seria Idomeneo is a rare case of Mozart neglect. The 19th century had little use for its story of victorious Greeks and angry gods, and so the piece didn’t make significant inroads into the repertory until the middle of the 20th century. And this a rare case where Boston had something before New York: the Berkshire Music Festival gave the American premiere in 1947, but its Metropolitan debut had to wait until 1982, 201 years after its composition. The BU Opera Institute presents four performances at the BU Theatre: April 18, 19, and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 20 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and 15; call (617) 266-0800.

Issue Date: April 10 - 17, 2003

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