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Gubaidulina and Rachmaninoff, from Nelsons and the BSO

Andris Nelsons
Marco Borggreve
Andris Nelsons

Saturday, May 21, 2022
8:00 PM

In a celebration of the composer's 90th birthday, Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Sofia Gubaidulina's "The Light of the End," as well as Rachmaninoff’s powerfully dramatic Third Symphony.

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, conductor

Sofia GUBAIDULINA The Light of the End
Sergei RACHMANINOFF Symphony No. 3

Hear a preview of Gubaidulina's The Light of the End with Andris Nelsons and CRB's Brian McCreath with the audio player above.


Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB, at Symphony Hall with Andris Nelsons. And this really amazing program of two pieces, Sofia Gubaidulina's The Light of the End and Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony. Andris, you're doing a lot of Gubaidulina in the coming year, and you've even recorded this piece, that'll be released this week with the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Tell me about what the qualities are that draw you to her music?

Andris Nelsons [00:00:28] Yes, I think she certainly is one of the strongest and the biggest personalities in the family of composers generally, because in my experience, whenever we have performed her pieces, and also I've been so lucky to meet with her, to talk, and she was in rehearsals, not here in Boston, but previously doing pieces last years, it was really wonderful to meet her and then to get the energy and idea, how she thinks and what she prefers and so on.

[00:01:12] I mean, I must say that, already this piece, there are so [many] typical things of Sofia Gubaidulina. For example, she really loves the deep, deep, I mean, she loves contrafaggott [contrabassoon], she loves bass clarinet, she loves tuba, contrabassi, and all the lower register. She loves brass, generally as well, and she loves to use the natural or harmonics, which is quite challenging for the horns. And then, of course, she uses the strings as a wind, as a sparkle. And of course, a lot of percussion instruments, which [includes] the tam-tam. And it's all the equipment of a potentially very dramatic piece.

[00:02:12] And I think for people who have not experienced, thanks God, not experienced, you know, the things maybe that she did, being in the Soviet Union and emigrat[ing], and so, you know, being in the difficulties where the music was forbidden, that maybe for people who don't know that, it feels that the whole piece is very romantic and very dark. I think, although it is dark and dramatic there, I think there are moments of hint of some positivity still, you know.

Brian McCreath [00:02:51] There is that section that is almost like a chorale, it seems, the cellos especially, I think, are leading it. There's just this beautiful serenity, almost.

Andris Nelsons [00:03:02] Yes, I think there is this contrasting middle section where strings start, violas [and] celli at first, [then] contrabasses plays a rich, rich, expressive, almost chorale-like melody. But it's more sustained. And then it's interrupted by this [imitates sweeping orchestral sound], by the strings and by the wind, or storm. And again, the chorale continues from the same moment they stopped. And it goes on and it goes on, in this contrast until it reaches the climax. And I think also her genius way of building the dramaturgy, which is not an easy task, generally, you know, if you have a 20 minute piece or more than 20 minute piece, to write a piece, which makes sense in terms of a dramaturgy development. And that's challenging, but what she is doing is always wonderful.

[00:04:07] And then, of course, there is a peaceful moment, which is when the tuba, and of course, horn - Gus [Sebring, Associate Principal Horn] was playing fantastic today, and Mike [Roylance, Principal Tuba] our tuba player, and of course, Blaise [Déjardin, Principal] Cello, our three great soloists, they are this kind of trio - and playing these harmonics, it's like three apostles or something, you know, trying to comment [on] what we just heard. I have a feeling [that] we have this dramatic moment, and then I think the horn and tuba and cello, they have a conversation about what happened before and what does it mean? And then again, [the] orchestra is in and the bigger worries and agitation and the frighten is back. But also, there is a moment closer to the end, where brass instruments, it's low brass, trombones, horns, trumpets, they play [imitates music], very difficult passages and going up to high note[s]. But I think it's a feeling like, you know, in a war, they used to have these cow horns, which kind of said, either it's a victory, or we need help, or we're going to war. So it means something, some calling. And I think it's somehow also symbolic in this piece that this [imitates music] for about two or three pages, they're playing. Which again, gives the goosebumps and feeling that, no, there is something. We want to live, or we want to call or we want to fight and we want to survive. And maybe I'm feeling too dramatic. But that's how it feels in my heart.

[00:06:15] And I think, of course, also [of] the parallels [with] what happens today in life and our lives. Of course, the composition [was] composed much before, and Boston Symphony premiered it with Kurt Masur. But as we see the world, in a certain sense is changing. But from the other side, the things which are repeating itself.

[00:06:41] And I also just love also, you know, there is this moment when trumpets and, actually, also all the brass playing [imitates music] these triplets and the sixteenth notes and it's bright. It's almost like the bright light in the eyes. You know, you watch up and there is this bright light coming and then this trumpet call. And I think maybe there's also a little of very, very old Orthodox tradition. But I think she sees that there is a light at the end. And I do, too, and I hope musicians do, and I really hope the audience will enjoy the deep work, and they can just have a thought and have a listen and just can reflect on their lives and what does that mean for them. This music, it can't leave you uninterested or bored, that's for sure, you know.