VSO at the Orpheum Theatre

Kazuyoshi Akiyama, conductor laureate
Jennifer Koh, violinist

Dvorak: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53

Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite No. 3
Pines of Rome

Dvorak is back. And if you’d like a Respighi spree, feel free.

This was a wonderful show, beginning with Carnival Overture. What a great choice: rousing and raucous, precise and focused, Carnival was blissful. Dvorak’s most popular short orchestral work, it’s a blast of  energy I’ve listened to many times, but seeing the VSO perform it was a first that will last—so much not only to hear but see, so recent but already a good memory.

If only for Jennifer Koh, you should see this show. Brandishing her bow like a sword, she seemed to almost attack the violin.  Playing a 1727 Stradivari, Koh shook her head emphatically, as if she were headbutting the notes into the violin, willing the 300-year-old instrument to respond. Respond it did –  and beautifully. The high notes soared, the low notes roared, plaintive and impassioned, fierce and finessed – Koh played like an angel possessed.

Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite No. 3 is all melancholy melody and strings pizzicato. I was unfamiliar with the piece, but lush strings and echoing motifs soon drew me in to a musical calm – one that would give way to a true symphonic storm.

That storm arrives in the form of Respighi’s ultra-famous Pines of Rome, a tone poem that begins with percussive flourishes, swirling strings and winds, and trumpets. It quickly transforms, and  we hear the serene sound of a nightingale, followed by The Pines of the Appian Way which goes in another direction. Starting ominously, it builds, builds, builds, into a musical juggernaut,  overtaking the entire Orpheum with strategically-placed horns, and then with a climax of climaxes that puts the “o” in “crescendo”.

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