Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Bartok: Dance Suite, BB86a
Bruch: violin Concerto No. in G Minor, Op. 26 - Frank Huang
Dvorak: Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70
When I went to the "Insight in the Atrium: An evening with Concertmaster Frank Huang" organized by the New York Philharmonic a couple of weeks ago, it was more of a spur-of-the-moment decision than a long-planned outing. But I ended up having a really wonderful time listening to the downright charming young musician talk about his already brilliant career and share his thoughts about music in general and the Bruch violin concerto, which he was going to perform the following week, in particular.
Even more importantly, hearing a couple of recorded excerpts of the Bruch violin concerto and Huang's personal take on them made me realize what an appealing work it is and how much I had missed hearing it. So I did what any other commonsensical person would have done and I bought a ticket for one of his concerts, whose program also included works from East European natives and sometimes New Yorkers Bela Bartok and Anton Dvorak.
The name of Bela Bartok is always a welcome sight on any program, and the "Dance Suite" that opened the concert was predictably brilliant and fun. Dynamic conductor Pablo Heras-Casado did wonder leading the orchestra in a delightfully upbeat performance of the six short movements, and we all felt all the better for it.
Then came the moment I had come for, and I was pleased – although not surprised – to see and hear for myself that Frank Huang had no problem going from the concertmaster's chair to the soloist's spotlight, which he had successfully occupied in the past, for the occasion. His approach to the Bruch concerto was collaborative, direct and loving, letting his violin happily sing the richly lyrical melodies while still instilling enough depth into his playing to make the performance multi-faceted and exciting. His virtuosity is not of the flashy kind, but it is quietly and efficiently riveting, and the huge ovation he got from the audience and the orchestra made one thing clear: Everybody loves Frank!
Probably having had their full of dazzling music for the evening, quite a few people did not come back after the intermission, and it was their loss because Pablo Heras-Casado and the orchestra had an infectiously grand time with Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. The ubiquitous Czech master is not one of those composers whose name I avidly search on orchestra season programs, but then again, when I happen to hear one of his works live, I suddenly realize what I was missing.
That said, I am the first to admit that with its somber mood, engaging melodies and stark rigor, his seventh symphony is not only a heart-felt tribute to Brahms, and also a powerful statement by a strong individual voice that has learned many important lessons from his distinguished master and is now boldly and successfully moving on on his own. The orchestra played it with much enthusiasm and savoir-faire, and we all thoroughly enjoy it. So glad I stayed.