Ken-David Masur, Guest Conductor
Alexander VVedenskiy, Solo Oboist
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
It is always a nice departure from the norm when an orchestra brings in a guest conductor. It is also a change of pace when an orchestra features one of their own for a notable solo. So, how great is it when we have two of those occurrences in one note filled performance? Such was the case this past weekend as the Louisville Orchestra’s Classic Series featured guest conductor Ken-David Masur of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and featured Alexander VVedenskiy, one of the LO’s youngest instrumentalists, to perform a treasured solo within the oboe’s musical canon; Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto in D Major.
So, we will begin with the last piece of the evening: Johannes Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11. As this piece is a bit of a departure from Brahms’ other pieces, the six-movement Serenade has an almost lyric lilt within its stanzas. It does make sense when you consider that a lot of what Brahms had written up until the time of this composition was largely based around vocal performance. But, make no mistake; I’d be hard pressed to find lyrics to match some of the complex melodies and harmonies that are contained therein.
Within the first movement, Allegro molto, the first tinges of recurring themes begin to emerge. There is also a lovely banter that takes place between the brass and woodwinds, almost mimicking each other, but with sass. The second violins had a few moments in the spotlight in the Scherzo: Allegro non-troppo – Trio, being given a lovely harmony that served as a bridge for all of the other instruments to find their melodies. While the Adagio non-troppo is a bit flute/woodwind forward, the piece begins to sound more lullaby than serenade. When the fourth movement, Menuetto I-Menuetto II, begins there is a fastidious and calming pulse from the bassoons and oboes that punctuated the tone of the section. Not to be outdone, the violas are given a beautiful melody that glides easily into the Scherzo: Allegro-Trio. Featuring a trumpet section that follows a chromatic scale the movement culminates into an explorative finale that resolves the varied themes strewn throughout.
Mr. VVedenskiy has been on a fantastic ride in his musical career, having already received acclaim as a solo artist in Russia and winning multiple competitions, including a special prize of “Mozart-wunderkind” at the Vienna Classic in Austria. Upon arriving in the States he pursued his degrees at the Manhattan School of Music, studying with Liang Wang and the Curtis Institute of Music with Richard Woodhams. I’d venture a guess that it was at the Curtis Institute that Alexander was first introduced to Teddy Abrams.
Based on Mr. VVedenskiy’s stellar performance of Strauss’ Oboe Concerto in D Major I can hear how he has been able to accomplish so much in a short time span. He knows his instrument and he knows how to create moving and melodic lines that lull you in like a siren’s call. Of course, having a great piece to play is part of the formula. Within the writing, Strauss is sure to allow the oboe to be the main focus, allowing only minimal assistance from the other instruments. Of course, we can all use a little help from our friends, so the strings, especially the cellos, offer a substantial foundation for each oboe expression. Mr. VVedenskiy was always in tune with his oboe, the conductor, and his fellow musicians throughout his performance. He was never caught showboating but thoroughly concentrated on the music and the moments. Lovely.
Another lucky moment for us is that Maestro Masur brought with him a piece that was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra entitled the space of a door by Eric Nathan. During his podium introduction the Maestro shared with us that when Mr. Nathan visited the Providence Athenaeum for the first time, he was entranced by the thousands and thousands of books that inhabited the centuries-old building. Contained within those books were stories that longed to be told, to see the light of day, to be explored…to be lived. He used those possible stories as a framework, but it was through his own personal experiences that he was able to build upon the frame.
What a fascinating piece it is. It begins not with a whimper but a full-blown, in your face, every instrument on double forte force that does not let go for a few lines. The bombastic quality from the other instruments begins to wane a little, save for the brass, which gives us a gush of falling scale that is oh so satisfying and neat. Soon a sense of calm takes over and the building of themes become present. Is this a scene of star-crossed lovers in a verdant field? Or could it be a battle in outer space? It is within this piece that you could believe that there were a thousand different stories in each line.
While there were many lovely earworm moments, such as the brass scale, there was a time that within the woods and strings that a seamless and aurally pleasing transition from Major to minor happens that was a treat for my ears.
I believe that Mr. Nathan has a great sense of what modern audiences would like to hear in new compositions: a nod to the Classics with an eye to the present and future.
Thank you, Maestro Masur, for your introduction to a tantalizing piece and bringing your talents to our Louisville Orchestra podium. I hope that this will not be your only visit to our lovely and talented Possibility City.
November 17, 2018
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
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.