Conductor: Jaap van Zweden
Sibelius: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, Op. 47
Augustin Hadelich: Violinist
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
When I create my wish list for an upcoming season, a few top priorities never fail to pop up, such as Sibelius’ stunning Violin Concerto. And when it is paired with a good old friend that I haven’t heard in a while like Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and performed by the New York Philharmonic, all the better.
The composition matters, of course, but so does the soloist. And I was thrilled to see that the fearless violinist for the occasion – because fear has to be checked in when tackling the Sibelius – would be Augustin Hadelich, not only because our paths unfortunately have not crossed very often, but also because when they have, it has never been for the Sibelius. So I was looking forward to experiencing them both in one swell package.
Programming warhorses such as those two generally does not bring in the avant-garde crowd, but it did bring a lot of people on Saturday evening, and David Geffen Hall looked pretty much filled to capacity. And why not? I personally could not imagine a better way to wrap up our first cool, crispy, sunny, and overall splendid, fall day in the Big Apple.
The Sibelius Violin Concerto being one of the masterpieces that I obsess over, I try to hear as often as I can, which is still not as often as I’d like. On Saturday evening, Hadelich’s thoughtful performance of it did nothing but renew my deep love and endless admiration for the gripping emotional journey.
His tone may have been subtle, borderline understated at times, but he knew exactly when to pull out all the stops to dazzling effect. From the icy opening to the goofy “dance of the polar bears”, he maintained his solid command of the piece, extracting evocative tiny details while always keeping the big picture in mind.
It is tough and risky to follow the Sibelius, but after we loudly demonstrated our appreciation for his immense talent, Hadelich came up with the perfect encore in his friend Ruggiero Ricci’s arrangement of Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. A wonderful little treat that was an exquisite combination of lightness and complexity.
After intermission, we all happily embarked on yet another performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, one of the most popular works in the classical music canon. An extended fantasy with never a dull moment, the engrossing score requires a crack orchestra to be able to unfold in all its magnificent opium-fueled glory.
Luckily, the New York Philharmonic sounded particularly energetic and unwaveringly committed on Saturday night, taking the audience along the series of breathless episodes filled with love, dance, pleasure, loss and terror, with just the right amount of mystery thrown in for good measure. In fact, the general excitement was so palpable that my right seatmate, who had copiously slept during the Sibelius, remained wide-awake and totally engaged for the entire trip, all the way to the thunderous ovation.