Monday, October 4, 2010

BSO - Adams, Mendelssohn & Dvorak - 10/03/10

Conductor: Marin Aslop
Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 - Stefan Jackiw
Dvorak: Symphony No 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, "From the New World"

Music heals all wounds they say, so by all means, let the music in! After a couple of emotionally and physically draining weeks, it is unbelievably comforting to be back in the familiar environment of local concerts halls for such uplifting works as Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 and Dvorak’s Symphony No 9. I’m not sure if the No 9 has anything to do with musical inspiration in general, but it sure is forever associated with the most iconic works of these two masters, and hearing them both within three days has been a wonderful and, yes uplifting, experience.
Mendelssohn’s dazzling violin concerto is another piece that I simply cannot conceive passing on. This is, however, what I had to do last weekend, and as much as it broke my heart to miss no less than Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic do their thing with it, common sense did prevail. Stefan Jackiw is no Itzhak Perlman, but after hearing him perform Beethoven’s violin concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a couple of years ago, I was confident that he would be worth the trip up North to the Meyerhoff Hall.

The concert started with a symphony by John Adams (No, there was no No 9 involved this time) inspired by his own opera Doctor Atomic. I actually got to hear it a few months ago conducted by the man himself when he was the artist-in-residence of the National Symphony Orchestra. Enlightened by the background information I had gotten then and the introduction provided by maestra Alsop today, it was fairly easy to connect the music with the various elements of the story. The experience was all the more complete that the BSO powerfully highlighted all the chaos, natural or man-created, that was going on during those dark days of the Manhattan Project, and a special mention should be made of principal trumpet Andrew Balio for admirably bringing out the moral anguish that overtook Oppenheimer on the eve of the fateful testing.
After such a disturbing half-hour, Mendelssohn’s lovely violin concerto shone all the brighter. Still as serious-looking as two years ago, Stefan Jackiw treated us to a thoughtful, sometimes almost restrained, interpretation of it, his sweet tone allowing just the right balance of quiet introspective and youthful joie de vivre. The orchestra went all out to provide the discreet support that was needed without overwhelming the soloist’s part and they all made beautiful music together. Hearing such an all-around delightful work never fails to be a soothing, heart-warming experience and today proved no exception thanks to a remarkable young man who just keeps getting better and better.
Mendelssohn may be an expert at playfully lightening up a mood, but Dvorak’s From the New World symphony grabs you and lifts you up with one big take-no-prisoners swoop. The first work that he wrote entirely on American soil, the Czech composer’s Symphony No 9 combines American music traditions with rhythms from his own native Bohemia so flawlessly that it is hard to tell them apart. Add to that a heroic theme so infectious that it sounds straight out of Star Wars and you have one of the most popular symphonies ever. The orchestra went into it full throttle and just never let go of their momentum all the way to the triumphantly exuberant finale. Va-va-voom!

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