Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Joo Young Oh & Carlos Avila - Tartini, Saint-Saëns, Kreisler, Debussy, Wieniawski, Piazzola & Sarasate - 08/28/10

Tartini: Violin Sonata in G minor, (“Devil’s Trill”)
Saint-Saëns: Violin Sonata No 1, Op. 75
Kreisler: Praeludium and Allegro
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Wieniawski: Scherzo Tarantella
Piazzola: Oblivion
Sarasate: Faust Fantasy Op. 13

AT LAST! After searching for weeks on end anything even remotely musical to attend (Beside Mary Poppins The Musical, that is), the recital by young Korean violinist Joo Young Oh at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center sounded like an oasis of relief in the dreadful cultural desert that is Washington, DC in August. I had never heard of him despite an already impressive list of achievements, so  the time had come to rectify the situation and I happily signed on.
That’s how last night I found myself one of the very few Caucasian faces in an ocean of Korean nationals of all ages, all animatedly exchanging greetings and gossips (as far as I could tell) literally over my head. After a few minutes of observing my surroundings, I quickly realized that this was a big-time social event for their community, and a lot of them seemed to be there more out of patriotic fervor than actual love for Tartini’s or Kreisler’s greatest hits. The two fidgety, bored kids on my left and the older guy constantly checking his watch on my right certainly did not challenge that notion, but at least they were a respectfully attentive crowd during the performance and a deliriously appreciative one during the breaks, giving the young musician, a jovial 17-year old sporting slightly spiked up hair and a shiny black shirt with sparkling buttons, a rock star-worthy welcome.
Although Joo Young Oh was obviously the focus of the evening, I found it very odd that the name of his equally talented Juilliard buddy, pianist Carlos Avila, was nowhere to be found in the program or on the Kennedy Center Website. Was this glaring omission justified because Korean businesses were sponsoring the event and only cared for their national pride and joy? He, at least, did not let all the boundless adoration get to his head and did introduce "his very good friend" on stage during the second part. Better late than never.

Starting with Tartini’s Devil’s Trill is a sure-fire way to get musicians and audience ready for a musical feast. Joo Young Oh’s soulful opening was studiously effective before he and Carlos Avila picked up speed and finished things up with, well, devilish fun.
The Saint-Saëns’s violin sonata was the only piece of sustained substance on the program and got us acquainted with Oh’s artless fluidity and ardent romanticism. After much pretty strolling, both musicians eventually got into a fast and furious spell, bringing in the conclusion with flying sparks.
After the intermission, we were treated to a smorgasbord of short violin classics whose purpose was apparently to display all that our soloist, now sporting a shiny white shirt with sparkly buttons, could handle. And he handled them all with beyond-his-years poise and flair.
Kreisler’s beloved Praeludium and Allegro got the right amount of sternness first and razzle-dazzle later, managing to both contrast and unify the two moods.
Debussy’s Clair de Lune was a subtly colored, delicately impressionistic moonlight.
I’ve never cared much for tarantellas, so I can't say that Wieniawski’s scherzo rocked my world, but it still was a pleasant frolic, in a jumpy way.
One the other hand, Piazzola’s Oblivion was an appropriately pensive affair, nicely enhanced by a graceful, sensual Spanish overtone.
Although I would have loved for Sarasate to be present through his zesty Zigeunerweiser, it was his Faust Fantasy Op. 13, a lesser-known but nevertheless engaging rythmical roller-coaster, that closed the official play-list.

But the party was not over. Our young violinist had promised to extend it if the applause was loud enough, and the thunderous standing ovation got us not one but two encores. In such young and playful hands, Bazzini’s Dance of the Goblins just kept on going with non-stop virtuosic merriment. Couldn't figure out what the second encore was, but its more subdued tone brought this delightful concert to a lovely ending.