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Curse of the Maestro



Before and after conductor Carlo Montanaro raced through his hurry-up version of Giuseppe Verdi’s monumental “Requiem” at Tanglewood, jittery concertgoers were harping on one theme only: Is their beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra cursed?

The evidence seems incontrovertible. We now see that the BSO’s misfortunes have their roots in the early 21st century, under the drooping baton of maestro Seiji Ozawa. An excellent idea — drafting the musical prodigy James Levine from his post at New York’s Metropolitan Opera — ended badly. Fortuna failed to smile on the bumptious New Yorker, who was plagued by ill health during his on-again, off-again tenure.

Earlier this year, it seemed as if the BSO’s worries were over. Andris Nelsons, a brilliant young Latvian conductor, signed a five-year contract to lead the orchestra. Now, on the cusp of a new era, disaster has struck again: Nelsons suffered a severe concussion just days before he was slated to direct the “Requiem” on Saturday.


It hardly went unnoticed that Nelsons injured himself at his beloved Bayreuth Festival, ground zero for Richard Wagner’s curse-obsessed Ring Cycle. “Wie durch Fluch er mir geriet, verflucht sei dieser Ring!” (“Since it came to me through a curse, accursed be this ring!”) Who can forget?

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Sorry, off on a tangent there.

Of course everyone hopes that Nelsons will hop back on the podium, perhaps as early as this weekend in Bayreuth. But concussions can be seriously debilitating. The Canadian virtuoso Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion on Jan. 1, 2011, which affected him for nearly a year. Some say the Nova Scotia-born maestro — Crosby plays hockey — has never fully recovered. His Pittsburgh Penguins played flat, flat, flat in a recent playoff series with Boston; no one wishes this fate for Nelsons.

Wait; the bad news accumulates. On the same weekend that Nelsons was scratched from the lineup, guest conductor Christoph Eschenbach missed two BSO concerts because of an ear infection. Simultaneously, the world-famous bass soloist Ferruccio Furlanetto wasn’t able to perform the “Requiem,” pleading a bad cold.

Coincidence, or something more?


The ghastly truth is revealed: The decades-old Curse of the Bambino has traveled about one half mile southward and eastward from its former home at Fenway Park. The Curse, which gripped Boston for more than eight decades after the Red Sox traded slugger Babe Ruth, now hangs squarely atop the elegant Symphony Hall designed by McKim, Mead, and White. Right around the time that Dave Roberts stole second base to jump-start the long-awaited turnaround in Boston’s baseball fortunes — 2004, the year of Levine’s hiring — the BSO’s run of bad luck began.

The Red Sox worked long and hard to reverse the horrendous curse, changing ownership, changing management, and drafting new cadres of players for whom names like Harry Frazee and Tom Yawkey were as foreign as Modest Mussorgsky and Hector Berlioz. A crazed fan left a Red Sox cap atop Mt. Everest; other boosters covertly relieved themselves near Babe Ruth’s birthplace; the faux priest Father Guido Sarducci “purified” Fenway Park with a bucket of holy Perrier water and a bevy of scantily clad “altar girls”; Jimmy Buffett devoted a portion of a Fenway concert to curse-extirpation. In retrospect, we can say: Every little bit helped.

Now the Symphony has to stare the Curse in the eye. Time to perform a few Te Deums under the whispering pines of Berkshire County? Perhaps the Pops should produce an easy listening album, “Music to Exorcise By.” No tone should go unturned. Alas, Symphony brass declined my request to comment for this column.

Looking on the bright side, the BSO need not descend into a fugue state. It took the Red Sox only 86 years to eliminate the Curse. If the Symphony acts accelerando, and brings to bear the right mix of ju-ju, feng shui, haruspication, and Pope Francis-endorsed cleansing rituals, they can turn this situation around.

I see that Pedro Martinez is back in town. Maybe he could threaten to drill Richard Wagner in the same manner in which he proposed to drill the spirit of Babe Ruth in 2001. With help like that, the BSO could be back in tune in as little as, say — a half century!

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at alexbeam@hotmail.com.