Christopher Wilkins reflects the magic of recent performances and the extraordinary achievements of the Boston Philharmonic under Ben Zander
"I was riveted from beginning to end." The first response of one exceptionally informed fan captures what we hope to hear from everyone who attends a Boston Philharmonic concert.
Christopher Wilkins serves as Music Director of the Akron Symphony in Ohio and of Boston Landmarks Orchestra, prior to which he led the San Antonio Symphony and served as guest conductor for many of the nation’s leading orchestras. He has a long history of working to make great music accessible to the whole community and of prioritizing inclusive programming and collaborative work. It is unsurprising, then, that he has become a close friend and fan of the Boston Philharmonic, where we strive to make high-quality, passionate music accessible and relevant to all. We asked Chris to describe the very special concert he attended on February 22 at Sanders Theatre and how it reflects on his experience of our orchestras over time. Here is what he said:
I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a concert more. The program offered pure pleasure and great substance, and showed what a remarkable instrument the Boston Philharmonic has become. Dazzling playing emerged from every corner, and we were all dumbstruck.
Then there was Aga Mikolaj, a spellbinding musician and personality. She embodied the roles implied in the poems of Strauss’s Four Last Songs as if living each one. As concertmaster Joanna Kurkowicz spun her gorgeous solo in Beim Schlaffengehen, Ms. Mikolaj visibly absorbed every phrase as if reading a love letter. Then she turned to the audience, giving each one of us the impression that she was whispering some private confession into our ears. She was ravishing. I hope she will return soon.
Of course, these extraordinary performances were shaped by Ben’s potent musical intuition: the character, the timing, the openness, the relentless searching and stretching for something more. Ben’s approach never holds any hint of the routine. It's always about the quest, reinvented with each rehearsal and each concert. By now, that is the Philharmonic’s way of making music too. No other orchestra would have the will – or the ability – to follow Ben to the edge of the precipice and beyond. But that’s how it felt in the Mahler Fourth Symphony as orchestra and conductor seemed to complete each other’s thoughts in one continuous spontaneous moment.
Ben comes to every performance with the conviction that we are there for reasons beyond the music. He wills us to examine the music and ourselves simultaneously in the context of great matters of the heart. This is an approach that Philharmonic audiences have become familiar with over a long period of time. Sunday afternoon in Sanders Theatre, I sat one more time in a house full of people who, like me, were opened up, touched, and challenged by the performance at the deepest level. And as on so many prior occasions, I felt endlessly grateful for this music and these performers.
These are great times at the BPO. Both orchestras—the Boston Philharmonic and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra—have grown into extraordinary musical partnerships at all levels. The young musicians of the BPYO have flung themselves into the third act of Wagner’s Siegfried with results that are already astounding… maybe ‘stupefying’ is a better word. And with the BPO, it’s fair to say that we are in a Golden Age. Ben and the Philharmonic are enjoying a brilliant and rare long-term musical marriage, and it is a privilege to be in their midst.?