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.