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Spotlight Report

  Scot Lehigh  

A changing of the old guard in Boston


IT'S BEEN AN epic few days for a city where public personalities are slow to acquire iconic status but even slower to relinquish it.

On Saturday night, Seiji Ozawa made his last Symphony Hall appearance as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday, the New England Patriots dealt away Drew Bledsoe, the $100 million quarterback once regarded as the future of the franchise.

That same day, Cardinal Bernard Law, the embattled Boston archbishop, offered yet another mea culpa before departing for Rome and the meeting of American cardinals called in response to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church.

For classical music fans, a fond farewell to Ozawa is made more heartfelt by the sense of promise and renewal ahead. Twenty-nine years, after all, is an eternity for a conductor to be in one place, a recipe for creative stagnation.

Yes, Ozawa could deliver triumphant evenings, but too often a concertgoer could leave Symphony Hall feeling that the performance had been shapeless, unformed, lacking that immediate emotional impact that can make music so satisfying. Nor could one miss the fact that some of the most memorable nights at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Huntington came when the BSO was led by guest conductors.

That's why, even as Boston wishes Ozawa well at his new post as music director at the Vienna State Opera, it's exciting to anticipate the possibilities both of the interregnum under some stellar guest conductors and of the era that will begin in the fall of 2004 under James Levine, whose past visits to Symphony Hall have usually left audiences entranced.

Like Ozawa, Bledsoe, who led the Patriots from 1993 until his injury early last season, was a man of large gifts but uneven performance. Skill for skill, he's no doubt the equal of Tom Brady, the young quarterback who replaced him after his injury last year and played well enough never to surrender the starter's job.

And yet, despite an ability to throw a football as though it were a laser-guided missile, Bledsoe lacked the singular quality that separates fine athletes from true superstars, a magical ability to make things happen in the clutch. With him at the helm, too many crucial series ended the same frustrating way: third and sacked.

Brady has already demonstrated that he has that elusive ability, which is why his Super Bowl-winning Cinderella season was such a delight. And why, after suffering through a succession of teeth-gnashing autumns, you have to admire Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who, in just two years with the team, took the measure of both men and decided on the young QB with the white-hot desire to win rather than the Pro Bowler who, at game's end, would manfully (if phlegmatically) shoulder the blame for subpar performances but who never seemed to translate that self-criticism into a sustained level of better play.

Was Tom Brady's 2001-02 excellent adventure just a matter of beginner's pluck? Given a new home where the Buffalo roam, will Drew redeem himself? Count those as the themes of many a future fall Sunday.

Finally, there's the man who isn't leaving, or, at least, who has so far declared he won't: Cardinal Bernard Law. No doubt Law is sincere both in his contrition for his mishandling of the rogue priests and in his desire to make things right.

Still, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that his desire to stay is more about personal redemption than church reform. During his 18 years here, Law has been a dignified but distant figure, a man who has been respected without ever being revered. That history has hardly rendered him an irreplaceable figure in time of crisis.

It should go without saying that the leadership of its archdiocese is more important to a heavily Catholic community than the conductor of its symphony or the quarterback of its NFL team. Yet the opportunity for new energies and a new sensibility in the service of a new era remains the same.

Perhaps with Rome's backing, Law will muddle through to leave later, on a higher note. But by choosing to remain in the face of strong sentiment among the laity - and, indeed, apparently among his fellow cardinals as well - that the Boston archdiocese needs new leadership to heal, the cardinal has clearly put his self-interest above that of the people and the community he serves.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 4/24/2002.
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