Sarah Chang plays Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor (full)
A gentle snow falls at dusk in a pristine Finnish forest. The long arctic night is descending near the winter solstice and a solitary figure wanders the wood, lost in the trees.
And so the Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, as illuminated by violinist Karen Gomyo, began. However, before we get to Sibelius’ dark night of the violin-soul, there was Beethoven.
Of all Beethoven’s overtures, Leonore No. 3 overcomes the most. I’d say "triumphant" but I am sick to death of the word. Using the word “victorious” is an option but, like a triumph, victory comes after the struggle. This overture starts the struggle known as the opera Fidelio.
Fidelio is about political prisoners being oppressed and ultimately freed by the sacrifice and heroism of Leonore, who disguises herself as a character named Fidelio in order to enter the prison and set her husband free. That’s the "overcoming" part.
Here, again, is the German tradition of the redemptive feminine, which has roots in Goethe’s Faust, continues through Fidelio and peaks in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, and Lohengrin.
Speaking of the redemptive feminine, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, conducted the San Diego Symphony as if it were the end of the world. Her energy while conducting the Leonore Overture ignited Symphony Hall and set the orchestra on fire.
Then came Sibelius and his Nordic brooding, full of sweet gloom and glorious depression. Gražinyte-Tyla’s fire didn’t quite turn to ice but the flame simmered while Karen Gomyo took us on a journey with a map only Sibelius could create.
There is a reluctant yearning in Sibelius’s music which might be left over from his teenage desire to be a virtuoso violinist, not a composer. That’s some hardcore pseudo-psychology but the opening movement is full of longing — and perhaps regret?
Karen Gomyo gave a singular performance. This violin concerto is, at times, introspective instead of spectacular and it gives the audience’s attention a chance to wander as Sibelius turns inward. The audience was locked on Ms. Gomyo from start to finish because her performance brought us into those dark woods into which Sibelius, and all of us, have wandered from time to time.
The first half of this concert was so phenomenal that the mutha-effing Rite of Spring almost felt like an afterthought — until it started. There is no holding back the behemoth.
The San Diego Symphony threw a saddle on that beast and rode it across the splintering ice of the Neva River and out onto the thawing steppe. Along the way a young woman is chosen as a sacrifice. Ahem — redemptive feminine.
The Rite of Spring is about a pagan ritual which involves an adoration of nature and the sacrifice of a female to the earth. Stravinsky wanted to capture the energy of the Russian landscape exploding out of the depths of winter in this spring ritual. It’s a tall order but the performance of Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla and the San Diego Symphony was up to the task.
The search for a new music director is turning into an embarrassment of riches. The guest conductors have been stellar and the orchestra has appeared to respond to all of them with top-notch performances across a broad spectrum of music.