By Roger Hecht, Reference Librarian and Classical Music specialist at the Cambridge Public Library.
Pierre Monteux Conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Made in Sanders Theater, Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma in 1959
Brahms Tragic Overture, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Hindemith’s Nobilissime Visione.
This video, made in 1959, is the only one I’ve seen with Monteux on the on the podium. It is in black and white, and while the sound is not first-rate, it is good enough to convey the performance. The TV direction of Boston Symphony concerts was excellent in its old (and regrettably discontinued) Evening at Symphony series, and you can see the roots of that excellence here. Unlike so many televised orchestra concerts, the director is not obsessed with the conductor (though we see plenty of Monteux), and he does not try for showy shots of rows of instruments, close-ups of trill keys, and other nonsense. Orchestras are made up of human beings playing instruments, and that’s what we see. The director knows the scores, so cuts to various instruments make sense and are well-timed.
Along with Monteux, you see some of the stars of the Boston Symphony in the orchestra’s heyday near the end of the Charles Munch period. Most notable is flutist Doriot Dwyer, the first female section principal in an American orchestra. There is also principal oboist Ralph Gomberg, trumpeters Roger Voison on the right, and a young Armando Ghitalla second from the left. Experienced watchers of the orchestra will recognize many others.
The performances are exemplary. Monteux was 84, but his unspectacular beat is firm and clear. He conducts from memory and has no problems with the complex meters of the Stravinsky. (The original Petrouchka that he conducts here has some treacherous rhythmic moments that Stravinsky simplified in the 1947 revision.) While he is not known as a Hindemith conductor, Nobilissime Visione is very good as well. (Has the BSO played this before or since? I’m not sure.)
View an excerpt of the performance here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4z6HOhe3Yo.