February 1, 2011

Looking At An Old Friend With New Eyes - Mendelssohn and Midori

As the laundry spins, I am taking this opportunity to post. It feels as if I just got home on Sunday (which I think I did?), and although life has been a bit of a whirlwind I must say that it is a joy to have time now sit and write - even if the writing has taken place during the long and uninterrupted bus trips across the country...

Monday was administrative day, and today and tomorrow are filled with putting the finishing touches on eight orchestral accompaniments that are the repertoire for the Sphinx Competition, which take place this weekend in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. This is my first time participating in the event and I am truly looking forward to seeing this organization in action, as it has become an important resource for Black and Latino string players.

While I have yet to hear him in concert, I am a Daniel Hope fan. Having first heard of him in 2004, I find myself continuously impressed by his writing, the collaborative works that he produces, his commitment to new music and of course his musicmaking. From the many videos available on YouTube (I cannot believe that I just wrote that), Hope seems to be a daredevil on the stage: while watching his performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto I found myself mesmerized by what can only be called “daring”.

Having played the Mendelssohn as soloist with orchestra in 2007 (and no, I am not comparing myself to the likes of Daniel Hope and Kyung Wha Chung, another favorite), I have now found myself listening to the many recordings that are available. This is not with the intention of "copying"; rather, it is so important for us as musicians to listen. Oddly, what I’ve heard is a lot of “sameness”.

On January 27 and 28, 2011, I had the opportunity to play with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, with Midori as the soloist performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. At the beginning of the week I found myself really looking forward to both the rehearsals and concerts: this was the first time that I would be hearing Midori live. Midori has a quiet yet visceral presence, and from the first note she played it was obvious that this was to be a very special reading, one very different from those that I have heard before both live and recorded.

Of course, where should I start?!

What I remember so clearly is the extremely deliberate placement of her fingers, even in the very fast passages, and the assurance with which Midori placed her bow on the string at all times. It was also very interesting to see that she used her bow incredibly economically; however, the reason for this economy of bow distribution was to produce the appropriate sound at all times. In tandem with this judicious use of the bow was a sparing use of vibrato. No, this was not a “plug in the left hand and throb” performance; rather, it was a reading that showed exquisite restraint while honoring both the spaciousness of Mendelssohn’s legato and the capriciousness of his virtuostic passagework. The sound and concept were both refreshing, and the perfect companion to the approach exhibited by Chung and Hope (and for the record, I am by no means questioning of either of them!)

In case anyone reading this is wondering whether or not this was a “lazy” performance – after all, why should the great ones give their all when playing in a city other than one of the cultural capitals - I must say that it was quite the contrary: what we witnessed this weekend was indeed a thoughtful performance, a performance through which the golden glow of spiritual peace shone and through which I became reacquainted with an old friend....

...and then two days later came a white-hot Korngold, played by Odin Rathnam, which you can read about below. I'm STILL spellbound...


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