Violinist Paul Huang.

Classics: Pictures and Painters

The Louisville Orchestra

Jorge Mester, conductor

Paul Huang, violin

Review by Scott Dowd

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Scott Dowd. All rights reserved.

Performers like violinist Paul Huang are the reason I love live concerts. Recordings are wonderful and I am sufficiently in awe of the smart phone’s potential, but there is no substitute for watching a virtuoso performer create a work of art. Those of us attending the Louisville Orchestra’s season finale concert last Friday were part of the creative process…something to be celebrated in the face of destruction.

The concert, marketed under the moniker Pictures and Painters, began with Paul Hindemith’s thinly veiled commentary on the mores of the then-emerging Nazi party. Hindemith composed his three-movement symphony Mathis der Maler (Matthais the Painter) in 1939. Themes for the orchestral work were drawn from an opera the composer was developing based on the artistic and class struggles of 16th century German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünwald. Music director Jorge Mester continues to select works with plenty of opportunities for musicians of the Orchestra to demonstrate their abilities. Principal Flutist Kathy Karr’s interpretations in the first movement were a joy. Soon joined by her long-time colleague Don Gottlieb on piccolo, the two introduced a cloud of angels in the woodwinds and brass that circled above the stage – which, I am convinced, is where the best of the Orchestra’s sound remains despite the determined efforts of The Kentucky Center to make a multi-purpose stage do the work of a first-rate concert hall.

Enter the artist, Paul Huang. The lithe 22-year-old violinist already projects an air of quiet confidence, without arrogance. The opening theme of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14 is introduced immediately by the soloist who emerges from the orchestra as a bird in flight might separate from the flock. Huang’s clear tone and mastery of intonation allow him to add subtleties to his performance that had me laughing out loud with the joy of it. The composer opens the second movement with an extended oboe solo, wonderfully performed by interim principal Jennifer Potochnic. Throughout the second movement Huang seemed to be performing a duet with the orchestra, embodied by Maestro Mester. And when it was over, absolute silence hung over Whitney Hall in anticipation of Principal Timpanist James Rago’s introduction of the moto perpetuo created by the composer to allow the violinist to demonstrate their virtuosity. What Huang provided was four minutes of the kind of performance Paganini’s admirer’s walked miles to experience. The Louisville audience was no less appreciative and called Huang and Mester back again and again until the violinist offered an enraptured encore of Corigliano’s Red Violin Caprices. I was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the purity of tone manifested by a 1683 Nicolo Amati violin in the hands of a gifted performer.

The Louisville Orchestra’s 75th season concluded with Ravel’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Once again the musicians of the Louisville Orchestra were given the chance to show off their abilities. It was a nearly universal success led by Principal Trumpet J. Jerome Amend intoning the famous Promenadetheme. My personal favorite movement is The Old Castle, especially when it is performed by someone as talented as interim English Hornist Alex Winter.

The Louisville Orchestra will be on hiatus this summer, preparing for Fanfara on September 7 featuring pianist Emanuel Ax. The Fanfara program is scheduled to include Dvoràk’s Carnival Overture and piano concerti by Mozart and Beethoven. Candidly, there is a lot riding on the 2013-14 season. The musicians, management, the board, corporate sponsors and individual donors have stepped up to give this city the opportunity to continue to have live orchestral music. The question that remains to be answered is, Do we as a community want this gift? The next few months may give us the answer. Season tickets are available at 502.587.8681, 502.584.7777 and on-line at Let’s put our money where our arts are!

Classics: Pictures and Painters

April 25, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

April 26, 2013 at 8:00 p.m.

Louisville Orchestra

The Kentucky Center for the Arts

Whitney Hall

501 West Main Street

Louisville, KY 40202