Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rachel Barton Pine - All-Bach - 03/27/16

Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001
Bach: Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002
Bach: Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003
Bach: Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Bach: Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006

My sporadic weekends in Washington, DC are planned for various reasons, but regardless of what they are, I always try to sneak in at least one musical performance every time I make it down there because... why not? The trip this past weekend was chiefly motivated by a couple of museum exhibits that had to happen by then, even if the timing unfortunately made them coincide with the terrifying triple threat of Easter crowds, spring break crowds and cherry blossoms crowds. Even worse, neither the National Symphony Orchestra nor the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would be there to make things better, but in the end I figured that the pleasures of plastic arts would keep me busy anyway.
Fate, however, was obviously looking out for me because after thoroughly enjoying the Crosscurrents exhibit at the American Art Museum and the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery, on Sunday afternoon I ended up at the National Gallery of Art, where I noticed a Bach concert that was about to start. The weather was gray and many businesses were closed, making our nation's capital a rather bleak place to be in, so I was only too happy to rush by countless visual masterpieces to go hear a handful of musical masterpieces in the lovely West Garden Court. That's where a large crowd of dedicated regulars and curious visitors was patiently waiting to bask in Bach's timeless Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin courtesy of internationally renowned Bach expert – and truly delightful hostess – Rachel Barton Pine.

Not only contending herself with being a certified violin virtuoso, Pine also proved to be a seemingly inexhaustible source of insights about the works on the program, keenly enlightening us before each of them. Some of those movements were actually somewhat familiar because they are occasionally played as encores by soloists wishing to bestow a little yet noteworthy treat upon their audience after their concerto is over. When done right – as they usually are – they never fail to satisfy even the pickiest music aficionados.
On Sunday afternoon, we had the privilege to hear all six sonatas and partitas in the plant-filled atrium that, while not acoustically ideal, created a welcoming performance space. And it was in this relaxed atmosphere that Pine played Bach at his most artless and compelling, knowing full well that letting the compositions organically speak for themselves would allow the inherent beauty of the music to shine all the more powerfully.
Her dazzling technique, which was subtly evident as she was effortlessly negotiating all sorts of daunting challenges, was only equaled by her energy and joyfulness. One could feel that her deep understanding of each piece freed her from any misgivings or apprehension at tackling them. She was playing them for the pure thrill of it while still making a well-taken point of sharing her journey into Bach-land with us.
After the short intermission, the Partita No. 2, or, as Pine herself put it, "the one with the Chaconne", finally came, and the most celebrated movement for solo violin ever eventually took off in all its inimitable life-affirming glory, and yet without any undue fuss whatsoever. One could in fact attest of the movement's enduring drawing power by the significant exodus that followed its completion. It was a shame because the other outstanding movement of the afternoon came not long afterward in the Sonata No. 3's Fugue, an endlessly complex and transcendentally beautiful little gem that is also a whole world in itself.
The concert finished on an upbeat note with the Partita No. 3, which winningly combines French elegance and German exactness in seven movements. By then Pine had been doing some talking and a lot of playing during the previous couple of hours, but she serenely kept on going strong and graceful, wrapping up this dynamite Bach marathon with the infectious light-heartedness of the Gigue. In a little less than three memorable hours, she and Bach had definitely turned this potentially gloomy Sunday afternoon into an infinitely brighter and better one.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

New York Philharmonic - Sibelius, Shostakovich & Salonen - 03/18/16

Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Sibelius: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, Op. 47 - Leonidas Kavakos
Shostakovich: The Age of Gold Suite, Op. 22a
Salonen: Karawane - New York Choral Artists

After all these years, I still have not figured out the best way to approach a work I am not familiar with. Going in there cold for a totally unbiased first impression or doing some homework beforehand for a relatively enlightened experience? But in any case, when it came to Esa-Pekka Salonen's Karawane, whose New York premiere took place this week at the David Geffen Hall with the New York Philharmonic, who also co-commissioned it, fate handed me two golden opportunities for homework that I simply could not turn down.
The first one serendipitously came to me last summer at my mom's home in Provence, where the world premiere of Karawane at the Zurich Tonhalle suddenly popped up on Mezzo TV, stopping me cold in my tracks and compelling me to actually sit down and watch TV for the first time in a couple of decades. The second one came last Wednesday evening much closer to home at the Lincoln Center's Rubinstein Atrium, where E.P. Salonen and the New York Philharmonic's Edward Yim discussed the work in depth during an Insight at the Atrium event. And that's not counting the short introduction by Salonen right before the performance on Friday evening. Needless to say, each new round of insights had unfailingly made more excited about the real thing.
I was also very excited about the other hard-to-resist attraction on the program in the person of Leonidas Kavakos playing my beloved Sibelius violin concerto. After memorable performances of it by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Hilary Hahn earlier this season, I was still looking forward to yet another one, this time by a violinist whose performance of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto a few years ago with the same orchestra in the same venue was a totally unique experience. And that's because so far this has been the first and only time in all my years of concert going that I got to witness an audience become unable to repress their boundless enthusiasm any longer and spontaneously burst into applause during the first movement.Seriously.

So here we were again on Friday night, although this time it was for Sibelius' timeless masterpiece. I have always found Leonidas Kavakos' performances brilliant because they achieve so much with seemingly so little. He cleverly lets the music speak for itself, quietly going for the core emotional content of the work with a minimum of fuss, which makes the overall impact all the more powerful. On Friday, his tour de force was particularly persuasive as Alan Gilbert led the New York Philharmonic down the same road for an inconspicuously eloquent reading of the instrumental part. The icy darkness was restrained yet unmistakably ominous, which in turn emphasized the underlying intensity of the romantic flights and the irresistible pulse of the light-hearted "polonaise for polar bears". This was Sibelius at his most organic and haunting.
The wide range of Leonidas Kavakos' virtuosic skills were on full display again in his terrific encore, the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3, which he effortlessly handled with godly inspiration (and I am not saying that just because he's Greek).
At first glance, Shostakovich's The Age of Gold Suite pretty much looked like an after-thought on the program, stuck as it was between a popular Finnish classic and an eagerly awaited new work by the first and foremost Finnish composer and conductor of our times. It turned out to be a complex and fun piece, which the orchestra played with their usual savoir faire and good humor, almost making me feel guilty not to care about it more than I did. But what can I say? There's only so much I can take in one evening, and I had to save some on my energy and concentration for what was coming next.
And Karawane eventually came and easily conquered, mostly because it is an intrinsically engaging and appealing work, overflowing with gorgeous sounds, like an intense choral passage slowly dissolving into nothingness, interesting combinations, such as a cello suddenly duetting with an oboe as well as unexpected twists and turns every few minutes.
Inspired by the avant-garde Dada movement, which not coincidentally was born in Zurich, and more precisely by a Hugo Ball poem whose words are meaningless, Karawane intends to make sense of the senseless by using the sounds of those words to pave the way to possible interpretations. And that's because, as Salonen quipped during his introduction, "There is nothing that means nothing". After confessing that while composing it he drew from Escher's lithograph Ascending and Descending, images of traveling circuses and the idea of constantly moving without getting anywhere, he left us to our own devices to decide for ourselves.
Karawane opened with the chorus whole-heartedly engaged in countless whispering sounds coming from the poem, creating a most unusual buzzing tapestry, until it all became music. The singing remained stunningly textured throughout the entire piece, which is uniformly dense and often challenging. For the accomplishment of that feat due credit has to be given to the fabulous New York Choral Artists chorus and its music director Joseph Flummerfelt, who is about to retire on this superb note after 44 years.
The instruments kept busy as well, and if it all occasionally sounded like rowdy chaos, there was no doubt that the apparent confusion was intended and fully controlled. Altogether, the ambitious score burst with vivid colors and cinematographic images worthy of a road movie, always moving ahead in search for more. On Friday night, the audience was more than grateful for being taken for the thrilling ride and let it be known with a triumphant ovation. Let's hope we'll get to hear it again soon, possibly conducted by its composer?

Steven Isserlis & Stephen Hough - Dvorak, Suk, Schubert, Hough and Grieg - 03/15/16

Dvorak: Walderuhe, Op. 68, No. 5
Suk: Ballade and Serenade for Cello and Piano, Op. 3
Schubert: Sonata in A Minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D. 821
Hough: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Left Hand, "Les Adieux"
Grieg: Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36

Long-time personal friends and music partners Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough can each rightly claim to be able to fill the sizeable concert hall of the Upper East Side’s 92Y on their own, having done just that for many years now. So it is hard to believe that last Wednesday evening was their New York recital debut as a duo there, but at least the much overdue occasion had the priceless advantage of instantaneously doubling the audience's pleasure.
Although the repertoire for cello and piano is relatively limited compared to some other instrument pairings, nothing had been left to chance. The program included two popular classics book-ending three intriguing curiosities and was performed in a genuinely warm and relaxed atmosphere, just as if we had unexpectedly dropped in on a private session of two exceptionally gifted buddies having a little fun together.

The concert opened with the lovely "Walderuhe" by Anton Dvorak, who for the occasion had ventured away from his typical bohemian rambunctiousness and into the celebrated silent woods with much sensitivity and success. Faithful to their respective signature styles, Steven Isserlis took charge of the cello part with passionate panache while Stephen Hough remained exactingly elegant at the piano.
We stuck around the realm of Czech composers with Josef Suk and his engaging Ballade and Serenade for Cello and Piano, which he wrote when he was a mere 16-year-old student of...Dvorak. And sure enough, the same combination of attractive melodies and organic liveliness was readily found here and beautifully emphasized by the two musicians.
Franz Schubert's Sonata in A Minor for Arpeggione and Piano was originally composed for the short-lived bowed guitar and the piano, and later adapted for the cello because discarding a composition by Schubert would be nothing but a crime. In Isserlis' expert hands, the cello part sounded effortlessly natural while Hough kept the piano a steady partner.
The fact that the distinguished pianist’s musical talent is not limited to mastering the keyboard was proven by the next piece, his sonata "Les Adieux", which he wrote at Steven Isserlis' request for a common pianist friend of theirs who had temporarily lost the use of his right hand. The result was downright appealing with a melancholic beginning followed by an impressive build-up before a quiet conclusion.
The major work of the concert had been kept for last in Edvard Grieg's beloved Cello Sonata in A Minor. Written after a long period during which illness and conducting kept him away from his primary calling, the newly revved-up composer did not hold back at the time, and neither did the musicians on Wednesday night. The stunning lyrical lines by the cello were perfectly complemented by the well-defined intricacies coming from the piano. Add to that just the right amount of flamboyance and we had a total winner.

 Just when we did not think it could get any better, we got to enjoy what turned out to be the highlight of the evening in Ludwig Lebell's "Berceuse orientale", not that much because of the short piece's inherent charm, but because of the delightful routine it came with. As Steven and Stephen had started playing, a man came out of the wings carrying a tray and two flutes of champagne, which he matter-of-factly brought to the musicians, who promptly grabbed them. And the affable duo carried on, one hand dexterously playing their instrument, the other one holding their flute for the occasional cheering and leisurely sip. Cheers!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cantori New York - La remontée des cendres - 03/12/16

Artistic Director & Conductor: Marc Shapiro
Bruno Bettinelli: Three New Madrigals (Tre nuovi madrigali)
Maija Einfelde: At the Edge of the Earth (Pie zemes tãlãs)
Frank Ferko: La remontée des cendres (The rising of the ashes)
Siman Chung: Countertenor
Halley Gilbert : Soprano
Frank Cassara: Bass drum
Funda Cizmecioglu: Violin
Sara Cyrus: Horn
Richard Harris: Trombone
Thomas Hutchinson: Trombone
Kris Saebo: Tuba
Jeff Scott: Horn
Dan Peck: Tuba

After a Friday evening spent reveling into Messiaen's tumultuous Turangalîla-symphonie, a Saturday afternoon partially enjoying Ben Bliss' and Lachlan Glen’s flawless recital of bel canto arias, classical pieces and popular songs at a Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert – not to mention a few pop hits from the 1980s (Cyndi Lauper, anyone?) in a local pizza joint for good measure – I was as ready as could be for my next and final musical stop of the weekend on Saturday night: Cantori New York's one and only March performance of presumably exciting contemporary works that had not gotten a chance to be heard in New York City yet.
The centerpiece would be the U.S. premiere of La remontée des cendres by American composer Frank Ferko, whose Stabat Mater has remained one of the undisputed highlights in Cantori's extensive history of bold and successful endeavors. It would be preceded by the U.S. premiere of Italian composer Bruno Bettinelli's little-known Three New Madrigals, and the New York premiere of Latvian composer Maija Einfelde's intriguing At the Edge of the Earth. Just another evening of intrepid choral experimentation with Cantori New York, in the Village’s familiar Church of St. Luke in the Fields.

The concert started with Bruno Bettinelli's study madrigal "Parole in Cerchio" (Words in Round), in which the fundamental concept of "Love" had to contend with much less attractive notions such as "War" and "Death" in an endlessly adjustable, beautifully kaleidoscopic tapestry of sounds. From this unusual starting point, maestro Shapiro and his fiercely dedicated singers took us on a harmonically dazzling journey through the ever-changing nature of the human experience.
Next, the self-described burlesque madrigal "Lo Struzzo" (The Ostrich) obligingly provided the only comic relief episode of the evening as the endearingly naive big bird tried its darndest to fly and predictably fell flat on its face in full chromatic glory.
The last and by far darkest piece of the trio was the political madrigal "Convien al secol nostro" (To our century belong), in which ignorance, shame and despair uniformly reigned until the wheel of fate finally brought hope back.
As if to make sure we were not getting too comfortable after those readily accessible Italian miniatures, Cantori resolutely moved on to a decidedly more challenging undertaking with Maija Einfelde's At the Edge of the Earth, a Latvian chamber oratorio in twelve parts that is based on four excerpts from the Greek tragedy "Prometheus Bound", whose moral of the story can best be summed up as "Do not play with fire".
That certainly was enough to pick the audience's curiosity and sense of adventure. The choir's assured mastery of the dauntingly intricate composition did the rest, all the way to the impressively cataclysmic ending, and we all came out gratefully conquered. That said, it is not like most of us could have faulted their Latvian skills anyway.
I am, however, perfectly capable of faulting French skills, but I would have been hard pressed to find any issues in Cantori's haunting performance of Frank Ferko's La remontée des cendres on Saturday night. The long French text, consisting of seven sections selected by the composer from an even longer poem by Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, uses the local, which in this case is the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to reach the universal in its visceral description of war.
Beside the deeply committed and consistently effective singing by the choir, the sizeable instrumental accompaniment, coming from no fewer than eight musicians, proved to be particularly helpful in adding a layer of not only gloom and darkness, but also confusion and anger, to the work. The low brass instruments turned out to be ideal to emphasize the idea of suffering and despair while the lingering violins subtly reinforced the feeling of emptiness and desolation.
The two solo parts, for countertenor and soprano, were short but nevertheless totally earned their presence in the score by providing respectively a victim's disgusted point of view and a witness's agonizing questions when confronted with the horrors of war, making the whole ordeal even more personal and relatable.
Frank Ferko was in attendance and looked genuinely pleased by the performance. So was the audience. So much so in fact that we immediately started to look forward to The Prison in May. Same time, same place.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

New York Philharmonic - Messiaen - 03/11/16

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Messiaen: Turangalîla-symphonie
Valérie Hartmann-Claverie: Ondes Martenot
Yuja Wang: Piano

After thoroughly enjoying an Olivier Messiaen-focused chamber concert curated by Esa-Pekka Salonen and performed by members of the New York Philharmonic in Williamsburg's National Sawdust on Monday night, I had become even more eager – and that is saying a lot – to experience a larger-scale feat on Friday night with E.P. conducting the entire orchestra plus hotter-than-ever virtuoso pianist Yuja Wang and celebrated ondes Martenot expert Valérie Hartmann-Claverie in Messiaen's sprawling, unruly Turangalîla-symphonie in Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall.
Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra's musical director and conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who smartly gave Messiaen carte blanche, the work was premiered in Boston in 1949. The concert was conducted by a young Leonard Bernstein, featured Yvonne Loriod at the piano and Ginette Loriod at the ondes Martelot, and gathered some scathing reviews. But common sense eventually prevailed and it is now justly considered a 20th century masterpiece as audiences have learned to appreciate the 75-minute journey into musical territories that still feel unspoiled and awe-inspiring to this day.
I had been warned, in a nice but firm tone, by voicemail and email that there would be no late seating, a message that apparently everybody in the audience had heeded. Therefore, after a typically insightful and entertaining introduction by Salonen, during which he authoritatively put the Turangalîla into the same "certified forever fresh" category as the Eroica, La symphonie fantastique, Tristan and Isolde and The Rite of Spring, we all braced ourselves for a ride that, according to popular wisdom, could only be intensely wild.

Rightly yet deceptively described by the composer himself as a "love song", the Turangalîla was drawn from Messiaen's complicated budding love for Yvonne Loriod (Apparently there's nothing better for inspiration than being a married catholic composer who has found his life-time muse in a catholic student of yours while your wife is bound to remain in a sanitarium for the rest of her life) and the no less complicated mythical love of Tristan and Isolde; from then on, it boldly and ecstatically expands beyond human comprehension and into the infinite cosmos.
Widely acknowledged as one of the world's top orchestras, The New York Philharmonic never sounds better than when they work on an exciting challenge with a conductor they deeply love, respect and trust such as Esa-Pekka Salonen. On Friday night, one could most definitely sense that the musicians were ready, willing and able to follow him anywhere, and lo and behold, they actually did.
The name "Turangalîla" being derived from two Sanskrit words, "turanga" (tempo) and "lîla" (life force, rhythm), the symphony's ten movements explore the many facets of love in all its big, euphoric, and tender ways with unusual sounds, unexpected turns as well as fully relatable emotions. On Friday, the musical landscapes relentlessly went from explosive to dreamy to frenetic as the orchestra whole-hearted performed at it very best under the energetic, tight and detailed control of Salonen, who by all accounts was totally in tune with the method in the madness.
Not to be outdone, the two soloists were unmistakably present and in full command of their parts. At the piano, Yuja Wang was consistently assertive and precise, particularly distinguishing herself in the beautifully lyrical "Jardin du sommeil d’amour" movement. Valérie Hartmann-Claverie has to be an unequalled Turangalîla veteran by now, which probably explains why the slightly otherworldly sounds from her ondes Martenot came out always perfectly balanced with the orchestra's playing, either flawlessly blending or cleverly standing out.
The extraordinary adventure concluded in an unabashedly joyful, seemingly never-ending climax, whose triumphantly resounding power was quickly matched by the rousing ovation that ensued. Love had conquered all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

CONTACT! at National Sawdust - The Messiaen Connection - 03/07/16

Olivier Messiaen: Fantaisie for violin and piano
Pierre Boulez: Anthèmes I for solo violin
George Benjamin: Viola, Viola, for two violas
Olivier Messiaen: Le merle noir, for flute and piano
Oliver Knussen: Autumnal, for violin and piano, Op. 14
Pierre Boulez: Sonatine for flute and piano

Whenever E.P. Salonen shows up, so do I, if at all possible, especially if the event has to do with French composer extraordinaire Olivier Messiaen. Therefore, on Monday night I did not hesitate to get off the island and venture into the gentrified hipsterland that is Williamsburg nowadays, not oblivious to the ironic fact that it was taking the epitome of genuine cool to bring some pretty cool music to a pretty cool space in what has become a haven of forced cool.
The sold-out concert was part of The New York Philharmonic's CONTACT! series, which has been offering intimate performances of contemporary music in various venues such as the 92Y, SubCulture and now National Sawdust, circling ever widely in the search for the next perfect spot. On Monday night "The Messiaen Connection" had one more time attracted a fiercely dedicated audience to an exciting program to be performed sans intermission (Yeah!) by some of The New York Philharmonic's finest members.
The orchestra’s current Composer-in-Residence Esa-Pekka Salonen being not only a composer and a conductor of the highest caliber, but also an accomplished curator and delightful host, we got to enjoy his vast wealth of knowledge and deadpan sense of humor as he introduced each piece with valuable general information and insightful pointed anecdotes.

The first work on the program was fairly enough by Messiaen himself, going back all the way to the beginning of his career. Violinist Yulia Ziskel and pianist Steven Beck had the privilege to tackle Fantaisie for violin and piano, which they did with sustained energy and impeccable precision, always in tune with the composition's inherent complexities, but also making sure to keep it accessible and appealing.
It was followed by Anthèmes I for solo violin, a tricky but unquestionably compelling piece by Messiaen’s rebellious student Pierre Boulez. It was played with intense virtuosity by violinist Anna Rabinova, all the way to the whimsical ending.
George Benjamin's Viola, Viola, for two violas turned out to be my highlight of the evening, maybe because of my predilection for the viola, the indispensable but sorely neglected middle child between the violin and the cello, surely because of the fascinating composition, which slowly, almost hypnotically, pulled violists Katherine Green and Peter Kenote musically and physically apart.
Messiaen's memorable nugget Le merle noir was next and gave us the opportunity to marvel at the seamless symbiosis between flutist Mindy Kaufman and pianist Stephen Gosling, who treated us to a brightly colored, irresistibly uplifting tribute to birds, Messiaen's bottomless source of inspiration, everywhere.
Then we went on to Oliver Knussen's deeply atmospheric, occasionally moody Autumnal, for violin and piano, which the composer dedicated to Benjamin Britten, who happened to die while Knussen was working on it. It was brilliantly interpreted by violinist Yulia Ziskel and pianist Steven Beck, who let the work beautifully unfold and breathe.
The concert concluded with Boulez's Sonatine for flute and piano, a dense yet light-hearted effort from his early years. Flutist Robert Langevin and pianist Steven Beck handled the ever-changing melodies, sharp contrasts and non-stop energy with poise and exactness.

My evening in Williamsburg ended less successfully then it had started with a cellist playing less than skillfully in the Bedford subway station, which brought me down to earth rather abruptly. But never mind, I do have another promising date with E.P. and Messiaen later this week in the more traditional, and closer to home, environment of the David Geffen Hall, and I am already counting the hours.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Minnesota Orchestra - All-Sibelius - 03/03/16

Conductor: Osmo Vanska
Sibelius: Symphony No. 3 in C Major, Op. 52
Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 - Hilary Hahn
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39

No matter how much they practiced, the Minnesota Orchestra did not make it to Carnegie Hall for their eagerly awaited Sibelius-centric four concerts during the 2013-2014 season due a bitter and long-lasting lockout, breaking countless music-loving New Yorkers' hearts, including my friend Dawn's and mine, in the process.
But hope springs eternal in the human breast, and they finally made it to Carnegie Hall last Thursday night for one concert only, still devoted to Sibelius, which included his first and third symphonies as well as his violin concerto featuring child-prodigy-turned-certified-virtuoso Hilary Hahn. Not quite the Sibelius marathon expected two years ago, but probably enough to give the packed audience a sense of closure on the whole unfortunate affair.

Sibelius' Symphony No. 3 has always been the least performed of his seven symphonies, which prompted the composer to call it his "beloved and least fortunate child". And while its lesser popularity may be explained by its more understated form, there was absolutely nothing restrained in the orchestra's take on it on Thursday evening. Since the Minnesota Orchestra and its Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska have always been staunch supporters of Sibelius' œuvre (Bless their hearts!), the royal treatment that the Finnish composer's work received from beginning – The lower strings setting an urgent and incisive tone – to end – That's what I call a majestic finale –was no surprise, but still a wonderful, totally worth-waiting for feast in grand music-making.
Sibelius' Violin Concerto was my first taste of the Finnish master and made me instantaneously fall in love with him. It has remained one of my favorite classical music pieces ever and I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get to go hear it perform live. I was totally confident that Hilary Hahn had the required chops to handle the daunting challenge and, sure enough, the petite violinist made expert use of her huge talent and her exacting sound for a thrilling interpretation of it. Firmly backed by the conductor and the orchestra, she perfectly channeled Sibelius' hopelessly bleak and intensely emotional masterpiece with poise and heart. You go, Hilary!
As if to keep us on our toes, our loud ovation was nicely rewarded by the only non-Sibelius work of the evening, the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin, which she played with beautiful clarity.
After the intermission, we were in for more Sibelius with his Symphony No. 1, which has to be one of the most remarkable first symphonic efforts ever composed with its seemingly endless supply of attractive melodies, arresting clarinet solo, compact structure and overall compelling quality. At that point the orchestra no longer had anything to prove, but they still assertively powered through with impressive unity and gusto.

Nevertheless, no matter how fully satisfying Thursday night was, there was still some lingering regret about the four-night stand we did not get two seasons ago. So as if to make up for that still kind of sore point, the orchestra obligingly treated the enthralled audience to not one or two, but three exciting encores by – you've guessed it – Sibelius: The Countess' Portrait as well as "Interlude" (Miranda) and "Cortège" from The Tempest. Because one can never get too much of Sibelius.