Sunday, March 6, 2011

St. Louis Symphony - Williams, Adès and Tchaikovsky - 03/05/11

Conductor: David Robertson
Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Adès: Violin Concerto, “Concentric Paths” - Leila Josefowicz
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, “Pathétique”

A personal musical week that started on Monday with a remarkably satisfying performance by the visiting Minnesota Orchestra with young, lovely violinist Lisa Batiashvili at Carnegie Hall ended last night with a remarkably satisfying performance by the visiting St. Louis Symphony with young, lovely violinist Leila Josefowicz at Carnegie Hall. Not a bad week at all in New York's landmark concert hall. And although both evenings were mostly focused on traditional classical music, yesterday's concert stood out with the inclusion of Thomas Adès’ violin concerto “Concentric paths”, a brazenly contemporary piece that sharply contrasted the two solidly classical works book-ending it: Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular “Pathétique”, which alone is worth a trip down Broadway as far as I am concerned.

Starting the concert with a composition for double string orchestra and solo string quartet could only be a good omen. David Roberston, the genial and spirited music director and conductor of the prestigious St. Louis Symphony, the second-oldest orchestra in the US, took immediate command of his uniformly outstanding charges and did not let off. The 15-minute Fantasia was a real joy to dwell into, beautifully melodic and richly textured, just the way music should be.
Although I am the first to admit my bottomless guilt of not listening to much contemporary classical music, I manage to keep in semi-touch with some of it thanks to Leila Josefowicz, one of its strongest and most talented advocates. Indeed, I truly think that she is one of the very few musicians who can consistently achieve the little miracle of making challenging music easily engaging and I wouldn’t miss a chance to hear her live for anything. Moreover, the little I’ve heard of Thomas Adès’ œuvre made me eager to learn more and a new violin concerto is always an exciting prospect, so I figured that all these converging elements would at least make for an interesting experience. The result turned out to be partly traditional in the fast-slow-fast pattern of the concerto, but also decidedly modern as the middle movement was the longest one and the whole piece abounded with unexpected sounds going from one extreme to the other of the scale before ending on a surprising, whimsical note. As usual, I found Leila Josefowicz’s luminous, adventurous playing absolutely thrilling while she was assuredly making the treacherous work her very own.
After this foray into unknown territory, I was back on most familiar ground with my annual fix of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent “Pathétique”. The full orchestra was on stage for this grand occasion and they all flawlessly joined forces to deliver an absolutely dynamite interpretation of one of classical music's most prized treasures, not the least thanks to their energetic conductor who did not spare any effort to make it all happen. The passionate, the elegant, the triumphant and the heart-wrenching, all the various moods that Tchaikovsky injected in his last symphony were vibrantly expressed in this glowing performance. The strings sumptuously sang, the brass elatedly rang and the winds harmoniously rose. At the end of this epic journey through life and death, when all was said and done, we all left the concert hall sans the ultimate gift of an encore, but on the other hand, like my seatmate and I were pondering while frenetically clapping our appreciation, what on earth could have been played after THAT?

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