Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
The Louisville Orchestra
Jayce Ogren, Guest Conductor
Gabriel Lefkowitz, Violin Soloist
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
“The Show Must Go On” – is a phrase that has been in the theater/music world for as long as there have been audiences. While I appreciate the zeal and fortitude that is behind the rallying cry, I also respect The Louisville Orchestra’s decision to cancel the Coffee Series performance of this weekend’s Violin Concerto because of a pending winter storm. It was the right move.
Although there is still snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits, our talented Orchestra delivered a warm and inviting concert Saturday evening, filled with visions of green pastures and musical fireworks.
It is always a pleasure to have a guest conductor come into our fair city and lead our Orchestra, and rising star Jayce Ogren was certainly a delight. His current position as the Artistic Director of the Philadelphia-based ensemble Orchestra 2001 positions him as a conductor of renown and diversity, having conducted companies such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Berlin’s Symphonie-Orchestrer.
The evening started with a composer I was not familiar with, Franz Berwald, and his Overture to Estrella de Soria, an unsuccessful Scandinavian opera. Maestro Ogren, who lived in that area for a number of years, explained that Berwald’s music is still played there, and I can understand why. Just based on his Overture I could hear instrumentation that resembles some of the greats, such as Beethoven, Mozart, and maybe even Mendelssohn.
Despite the beginning movement being a bit dark and a tad dramatic, we were soon brought into a passage of brightness and clarity. While rapid and stark, I could hear themes that are often associated with bucolic fields, loss, love, and redemption. I am now on the hunt to listen to more of Mr. Berwald’s work. Perhaps the rest of the world will do so as well. Sometimes talent takes a while to find and appreciate.
In introducing the evening’s next piece, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105, Mr. Ogren shared a bon mot about an oft-used Finnish greeting: “Hello, nice to meet you. What’s the meaning of life?” How does one answer this? Apparently, this greeting is a reference to Sibelius’ work, which is thought to evoke the beginning of life. The opening tympani strike resembled thunder in the distance; then we heard a stunning flute solo in the “first movement”, symbolizing the shifting of the tectonic plates. Soon the trombones’ voices rise with cries of crisis and then of hope. While this is an unusual symphony that resembles something more akin to a Fantasia if one listens closely you can hear different sections such as an Adagio, Scherzo, and Allegro. Despite not having clear delineation, I felt that the piece has a better effect as a single movement as the momentum has no chance to break. And the end is beautiful. Within the opening lines, the second violins and violas offer a sublime melody that is strewn throughout the piece, hidden by other instrumentation but comes back around, in the end, giving the listener a sense of center. Mr. Ogren mentioned that Sibelius is thought to have said that his strings and their arrangement were like looking at God. Perhaps.
It is always nice when a member of the Orchestra has a chance to stand in the spotlight, and our concertmaster since the fall of 2016, Gabriel Lefkowitz, certainly did not disappoint with his interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35.
According to musical history, when Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was first placed in front of accomplished and revered violinists, it was received as “unplayable”. Even after the piece premiered it was panned by music lovers and critics. Included in the evening’s playbill, and it is a story I remember hearing when I was in school, was this: “The violin is no longer played: it is yanked about, it is torn asunder, it is beaten black and blue.”
The review goes on with some clever observations, but I have to disagree with that now infamous write-up. What I heard within Gabriel’s solo violin was a master craftsman at work who was able to cull magnificent sounds and spine-tingling notes out of his instrument. Many violin concertos that are played in repertory, such as Brahms, do indeed require a person of a certain skill set to imbue the composer’s idea, but this piece requires a musician who not only has the skill set but knows his instrument and its abilities. Virtuosic dexterity is a must and Mr. Lefkowitz certainly showed his.
There is not much of an orchestral arc that leads the solo violin in, but one is not needed. It is the soloist who actually gives the orchestra the concerto’s theme on which the whole of the piece is centered. That is not to say that there isn’t some juxtaposition of that theme here and there because there is and it is cleverly devised in the strings and woods, specifically. The layering of effects and themes are almost dizzying, but bring forth a sound that makes you want more.
The movement between the Allegro moderato and Canzonetta: Andante made the audience cheer. While short, the Canzonetta, provides some of the deepest sounds that the violin can make, which made me take notice. It also provides the orchestra the set up for the fluid change into a lyrical Finale. Within the last movement, we can hear a cadence or two that has a dance-like feel, perhaps of a Romanian origin, especially within the strings and solo. Then in a final push, the orchestra and its soloist land back upon the first theme and prompt its audience to rise to their feet.
Yes indeed, this was a well-deserved ovation for Mr. Lefkowitz. I look forward to what this talented musician and composer has in store for us later down the road.
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
January 14, 2018
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 W. Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.