Conductor: Juanjo Mena
Beethoven: Music to a Ritterballet
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.61 – Stefan Jackiw
Schumann: Symphony No 4 in D Major, Op. 120
There’s no rest for the brave, so one and a half hours after leaving the Kennedy Center concert hall with Vadim Repin’s intense Kreutzer still in my ears, I found myself at the Strathmore music center for more Beethoven, in this case his fabulous violin concerto, played by the BSO and Stefan Jackiw, a fast-rising and already much admired young violinist from Boston. The rest of the program, a little-known piece from Beethoven’s early career and the fourth symphony by Schumann certainly wouldn’t have enticed me to go all the way up across the Maryland border after getting a very satisfying musical fix much closer to home, but this was just too good to pass.
As predicted, the Music to a Ritterballet was pleasant enough, but apart from showing an unknown, and not particularly significant, side of Beethoven, there really was not much to it. Nothing more than straightforward 19th century ballet music, it was at most an amusing curiosity.
One of those disgustingly young and talented prodigies that make the rest of us feel like wastes of humanity, Stefan Jackiw quickly proved that his much touted talent was for real. Appearing onstage as a serious-looking, all black-clad and generally unassuming young man, things immediately changed when he finally picked up his violin and started playing the difficult cadenza-like entrance. With the energy of his 23 years and the technique of an old pro, he took command of Beethoven’s concerto from the very first notes and did not let off until he fiercely wrapped it up, taking us all along the magnificent journey that is this grand masterpiece.
This concerto is remarkable not only for its intrinsic and overwhelming beauty, but also for the technical skills and emotional commitment it demands. Essentially free of all the heavy drama so omnipresent in most of Beethoven’s oeuvre, it unabashedly reflects warmth, poetry, even light-heartedness. Orchestra and soloist are equal partners in bringing the music to life, and this certainly happened last night with each party effortlessly complementing the other. Juanjo Mena conducted with energy and sporadic grandiloquence, making sure to keep musicians and audience on their toes. Not one to rest on his laurels, Jackiw came back before the enthusiastic crowd and treated us to an outstanding prelude by Bach.
Schumann's fourth symphony was perfectly respectable, with nice romantic passages, and concluded this decidedly German evening with richness and comfort. So, violined out yet? Not in the least.