Jean Sibelius. His Violin Concerto is one of the toughest nuts to crack.
Ah, the impermanence of all things. After last week’s peak musical experience at the San Diego Symphony, we were bound to come down off the mountaintop. The concert on Friday, February 28, was good but probably came off as less than it was because of its proximity to the previous concert.
The concert started with the obligatory ten minutes of nonsense which tried to pass itself off as legitimate concert music. I suppose that since it is being performed at a concert it is “concert music” but that doesn’t make it legitimate, in my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me. This time the piece was Spin-Flip, by Texu Kim.
Nonsense, Sibelius, and Rachmaninoff
Garrett Harris and John Polhamus give their evaluation of the SD Symphony concert.
I would like to propose that contemporary composers be restricted from the use of the percussion section save two pieces. Pick two pieces of percussion and let us hear what you can do without the whirls and rattles. I seek not to offend the members of the percussion section, but I’m afraid that’s unavoidable. The orchestral petting zoo needs to be closed.
Next was the Sibelius Violin Concerto, a piece I have raved about in past years. Yet the fact remains, it is one of the toughest nuts to crack in the violin concerto repertoire. It is moody and episodic and requires a violinist to go to those dark woods, wherein the shadows dwell, and stay there for a long, long time.
Violinist Nancy Zhou is an emerging artist. As a 21-year-old virtuoso, she has won a few competitions and is at the start of what could be an illustrious career. I do not think she is ready to perform the Sibelius Violin Concerto, yet perform it she did. Zhou had all the notes but, to my ear and experience, she fell short of making a compelling case for why I should care about Sibelius’s music.
I liken it to a young opera singer. There is a natural progression of roles based on the singer’s abilities and experience. A 21-year-old soprano might have all the notes to sing the role of Brunhilde, but no one thinks she should.
Conductor Eun Sun Kim led the concert. She is the new music director of the San Francisco Opera, and her ability to coordinate the balance between the orchestra and a soloist was on full display. This is, of course, the most important skill and opera conductor can have.
Maestro Kim kept the orchestra in check during the Sibelius in order to keep Zhou’s tone present. This did lead to some rather muted orchestral sections but that’s the nature of live performance.
The final piece of the concert was Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3, and Kim brought more energy to the piece. The problem is that it is Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3. There is some commendable music in the piece but it is something other than the Rachmaninoff we all know and love. The Third Symphony is what happens when Sergei tries to force a smile when he is, in fact, a “six-and-a-half-foot-tall scowl”–according to Stravinsky.
One final point, the symphony officially has a trumpet issue.