Lenox — Leonidas Kavakos took liberties with Beethoven’s violin concerto on Friday, Aug. 9, at Tanglewood: He played his own arrangement of the first-movement cadenza that Beethoven originally transcribed for piano; added his own idiomatic flourishes to many passages; and, to clinch his total conquest of the piece, he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra while playing it.
How dare he? Here’s how: by following tradition. Beethoven collaborated with all kinds of professional musicians in Vienna when he needed creative input on a piece he was writing or revising. Carl Czerny and Ignaz Schuppanzigh are famous examples, but many other musicians in the composer’s circle provided helpful input from time to time. More to the point, Beethoven, to perfect his violin concerto, worked closely with violinist Franz Clement.
In addition, there is a tradition of violinists either writing their own cadenzas for this concerto or transcribing the ones Beethoven wrote for the piano version of the piece. It’s a long list, and it includes such contemporary violinists as Joshua Bell.
BSO principal horn James Sommerville says his colleagues tend to become “hypervigilant” when a soloist conducts the orchestra. Such was the case on Aug. 9. This means that what the Shed audience actually witnessed on Friday evening was a large-scale chamber music performance: lots of eye contact, lots of give and take, real-time collaboration. This is how magic happens, and it’s especially likely to occur when a conductor has the kind of rapport that Kavakos has with the musicians of the BSO.
Their ensemble wasn’t always perfect on Friday. But so what? It’s a small price to pay for the organic integrity you get when all parts of the machine have a coordinated purpose and impetus.