Saturday, November 18, 2017

New York Classical Players - Tessa Plays Beethoven - 11/12/17

Conductor: Dongmin Kim 
Nathan: Four to One for String Orchestra 
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 (Arr. David Schneider) 
Tessa Lark: Violin 
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite 

Experience and common sense have taught me that the only sure way to beat the New York City subway system in the weekend is not to use it. Therefore, I took full advantage of the beautiful fall weather we had last Sunday afternoon and happily walked across a bustling Central Park to the Upper East Side’s Church of the Heavenly Rest for the New York Classical Players’ second subscription program of the season: Tessa plays Beethoven.
The original program had Paganini on it, which had immediately set my heart aflutter as I hadn’t heard his intensely sunny and fiercely virtuosic violin concerto in such a long time, but then my friend Vy An and I realized a couple of minutes before the start of the performance that it had been replaced by the Beethoven violin concerto. Fortunately, that one is nothing to sneeze at either, just a little bit less radiance and a little bit more bombast, so we promptly made the mental switch and eagerly took it in stride.
The rest of the program sounded like an unofficial tribute to current and past American composers with the new arrangement of a piece by contemporary composer Eric Nathan and the beloved Appalachian Spring Suite by Aaron Copland that simply seems never to get old.

After originally composing "Four to One" for a string quartet, Eric Nathan arranged his appealing description of an autumnal sunset in upstate New York for a string orchestra after the NYCP, who obviously know a good thing when they hear it, commissioned it. Both earthy and atmospheric, that particular sunset’s vivid colors burst out in all their flamboyant glory before darkness and stillness ineluctably took over.
I had not heard the Beethoven violin concerto in quite a long time, and Tessa Lark’s commanding performance of it was the perfect opportunity to become reacquainted with the imposing work. It was also the perfect opportunity to become acquainted with the musician. Suffice to say that after going through her already impressive biography and hearing her in action, I have little doubt that the young and yet remarkably poised violinist will go places.
Although I found her playing particularly thrilling during the endlessly tricky cadenza and the unabashedly lyrical larghetto, the entire concerto immensely benefited from her energy, savoir-faire and commitment. Having it performed with a reduced orchestra was by default different from the traditional symphony orchestra version, but somehow this special arrangement managed to preserve its highly dramatic flair while allowing the soloist to shine even more, so everybody won.
Going from 19th century Austria to 20th century United States requires a giant leap, but Miss Lark unhesitatingly took it for the encore, treating the delighted audience to a fun little bluegrass number that readily proved that her range of skills was even wider than initially suspected (Yes! The girl can sing too!).
After intermission we remained solidly on American territory, early 19th century rural Pennsylvania to be exact, as the NYCP orchestra whole-heartedly worked their way through the original version of Copland’s engaging Appalachian Spring Suite, which on Sunday was played with a slightly expanded string section because, let’s face it, one can never have too many strings.
As the music went on, it was easy to see why the ballet score has always remained a popular concert piece, what with its vibrant post-war optimism, big sweeping emotions and nostalgia for life’s simple pleasures, which the musicians energetically conveyed without forgetting the more subtle touches. Seriously, who knew that such a quintessential piece of Americana could be such an invigorating breath of fresh air?
As timing would have it, Vy An and I got to enjoy some actual invigorating fresh air as we walked around the northern side of Central Park’s Reservoir during a lovely autumnal sunset in New York City, which kind of brought us right back to the beginning of the program.

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