Conductor: Marin Alsop
Beethoven: Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
Higdon: Violin Concerto - Hilary Hahn
Dvorak: Symphony No 5 in F Major, Op. 76
After witnessing Baltimoran Hilary Hahn's dynamite performance of Paganini's violin concerto with the NSO last year, I was very much looking forward to hearing her this time backed up by her hometown's symphony orchestra, with whom she's enjoyed a steady relation for many years now. I wasn't too sure about that brand new violin concerto composed for her by her former teacher at the Philadelphia Curtis Institute, Jennifer Higdon, but, hey, anything for Hilary... Last night at Strathmore, the female power trio was completed by the BSO's current music director and conductor, Marin Alsop, whose contract incidentally has just been extended to 2015. Beethoven is of course a promise that always delivers and Dvorak's fifth symphony sounded like the perfect innocuous pleasure for a spring evening, so everything seemed lined up for an enjoyable concert.
And it was. It unsurprisingly peaked early with an exhilarating reading of Egmont's overture. It was brash, full of vigor and of epic proportion, quite a fitting tribute to the 16th century Dutch Count Lamoral van Egmont, who ended up executed by the Spanish for trying to liberate his country from, you've guesssed it, the Spanish rule.
It is admittedly a hard, borderline impossible, task to follow the German master and sound up to par, but I did not ask that much from Jennifer Higdon (or even from Dvorak, for that matter), therefore her violin concerto turned out to be a pretty nice surprise. Perfectly tailored to Hahn's unwavering strength and natural delicacy, it kept her busy pretty much the whole time with plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her virtuoso skills. After starting the piece with a few high-flying solo notes, she was frequently accompanied by no more than one to four musicians at a time, creating lovely, quietly lyrical conversations, but she also easily managed to stand out when playing with the full orchestra, who gamely and efficiently supported her. It was a wide-ranging, breezy work and Hahn's radiant performance made it a real winner. Tchaikovsky and Brahms, however, can still rest in peace.
Dvorak's Symphony No 5 is not, by far, one of his most popular works, but its youthful exuberance and melodic power are nevertheless pleasant to the ears, even if there was not much more to it. The orchestra played it with much gusto, and wrapped up the evening with a whole lot of good vibrations.