Saturday, September 29, 2012

‘Turbo rocket’ violinist impressive in Kansas City Symphony’s season-opening concert

Review from the Kansas City Star from last night's KC Symphony concert:

‘Turbo rocket’ violinist impressive in Kansas City Symphony’s season-opening concert

By TIMOTHY L. MCDONALD
Special to The Star
Opening night for the Kansas City Symphony's Classical Series is always something of a celebration, and Friday night's concert at the Kauffman Center was no exception.

Granted, the event did not carry quite the level of excitement and hoopla as last year's opener: it was after all the premier season in the new facility. Still, the excited chatter outside Helzberg Hall before the concert attested to an audience eager to begin.

After a stirring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the concert opened with Finding Rothko, by Adam Schoenberg, the symphony's resident composer for 2012-13. Born in 1980, Schoenberg is a faculty member at UCLA and was educated at New York's Juilliard School and at the Oberlin Conservatory.

Based on four paintings by Russian-born artist Mark Rothko, the composition was a fine choice for the orchestra's season-long theme of Symphonic Pictures.

Finding Rothko opened with gentle, consonant chords. Haunting wind and reed lines played over sustained strings punctuated by percussion. The second movement intensified in rhythm, while the third movement contained a heightened sense of drama and a vibrant palette of tonal colors. Like the opening, the finale featured effervescent strings..

Music director Michael Stern identified violinist Vadim Gluzman as "a turbo rocket not to be denied." While the ensuing performance certainly justified the description, the opening movement started off a bit rocky. Gluzman demonstrated pyrotechnic brilliance in the rapid passages and myriad technical challenges. The melodic themes, however, lacked warmth at the outset, and the soloist occasionally exhibited a scratchy tone.

Things improved during and after the impressive first-movement cadenza, leading the audience to leap to its feet with applause.

All was forgiven with the lyrically rich second movement. Stern followed Gluzman's fluid, flexible rhythms, with very satisfying delayed downbeats.

While the first movement employed rapid, driving tempos, the finale was simply astounding — probably the fastest rendition I have ever heard. This led to occasional synchronization problems with the orchestra. Nevertheless, the dizzying tempos were exciting, and Gluzman exhibited enough energy to light a large metropolis.

Modest Mussorgsky's classic Pictures at an Exhibition concluded the concert. Like Schoenberg's composition, Mussorgsky's is based on visual art — in this case an exhibition of paintings in 19th century Moscow by Viktor Hartmann. Sections of the work represent paintings and the familiar "Promenade" theme portrays the viewer's walk between one artwork and the next.

Trumpeter Gary Schutza played the opening solo with bell-like clarity. The orchestra effectively captured the variety of images, from the foreboding and mysterious “Gnomus” to the delightful “Ballet of Little Chicks in their Shells.” The finale, “The Great Gate of Kiev” was bold and triumphant.

Stern proclaimed “we’re in a Russian mood” and led the orchestra in a boisterous and rollicking rendition of the "Dance of the Tumblers” from Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden.

The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Helzberg Hall.

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