I've been thinking a lot lately about what it takes for a human being to be a virtuoso performer. I had seen two, Midori, violinist, and pianist Jeremy Denk, at the first two concerts of 2016 with the Kansas City Symphony. Both were amazing. They played all of the notes of very difficult pieces. Their technique was obvious. And both meshed perfectly with the orchestra to create a very satisfying musical experience...they used their virtuosity to make music WITH a large ensemble rather than on top of it. Mr. Denk played Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto, the "Emperor Concerto". On April 25, 1841, it was performed at the Paris Conservatoire with Franz Liszt as the soloist and Hector Berlioz conducting. Did Liszt create music WITH the orchestra that day? Or did he go crazy and dominate the performance as the mega-virtuoso he was and leave the orchestra in the dust?....I wonder.
The third program of 2016 for the Kansas City Symphony featured violinist Vadim Gluzman. I will get to him in a moment.
The first piece of the evening was John Adams' The Chairman Dances-Foxtrot for Orchestra (1985). This comes from his opera Nixon in China. Wow. A breathtaking, 12-minute trot it was. Some observations: red, blue and yellow mallets, xylophone, wood block, kick drum, brushes on snare drum, high-hat, piano, soaring violins, low strings playing rhythm guitar. syncopation, glamour, pulse, hemiola, harmonics, glissando, lush life, staccato in the brass, pizzicato, fade out. Awesome.
Next up was Beethoven's Symphony no. 4. (1806). Maestro Stern did not use a score. Applause between movements (keep it coming KC). Stern looked back and smiled at the audience in a good-humored way...no attempt to discourage or chastise us. The musical lines and phrases were so clear...you could actually see them move from one section of the orchestra to the other. Inter-connectedness. Energy. CLARINET!
Vadim Gluzman was here tonight to play the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major (1878). This concerto, like Tchaikovsky's, did not meet with initial critical acclaim. It was very hard to play. It was unconventional for the time. Brahms' close friend, Joseph Joachim, played it first at the premiere in Leipzig. Joachim did not play it by memory...he used sheet music. Interesting to note that the first piece played at the premiere that night in 1879, before Brahms' concerto, was Beethoven's Violin Concerto, also in D major. Brahms remarked of the program "it was a lot of D major, and not much else on the program". Funny.....Perhaps this was not a good move programatically....or perhaps it was genius.......
Both concertos are certainly regarded now as masterpieces and are widely recorded and performed.
Vadim Gluzman came on stage fired up. He paced about and turned frequently to watch the orchestra as they played the opening statement. When it was time for his entrance, he unleashed a tone so sweet and warm that my mom and I looked at each other to see if what we were hearing was actually real. It was.
Gluzman, Stern and the orchestra made music. Entrances. Phrases. Space. Dynamics. Intonation. Gluzman moving about, facing the audience...Gluzman turned towards the orchestra with his back to the audience... Gluzman facing the first violins. Gluzman standing inches from Stern, like Joe Perry and Steven Tyler sharing the mic. (yes, that's an Aerosmith reference). Huge applause after the first movement. And why not? The first movement is like a concerto unto itself. And that OBOE! The one that violinist Pablo de Sarasate made the famous remark about "not wanting to stand on the rostrum, violin in hand, listening to the oboe playing to only tune in the adagio." Third movement. Famous melody. Double stops galore. Timpani. Big finish. Thunderous applause. Standing ovation. Encore: Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits. More ovation. Stern-Gluzman hug. WOW.