New music, old music, and Repin at Benaroya Hall

By R.M. Campbell

If people were looking for star attractions Thursday night at Benaroya Hall, they found one in violinist Vadim Repin, who was the soloist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

His vehicle for virtuosity was Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole,” a concerto by any other name written by a Frenchman in pursuit of Spanish temperament. Repin, a familiar face in Seattle since his local debut barely into his 20’s, wasn’t looking for much Spanish flavor in the Lalo. He sees the piece as a place to exhibit his astonishing technique, beauty of tone and musical elegance. He established his authority over the material immediately and nothing during the next 20 minutes or so would change that opinion. He has all the proper attributes for the many bravura opportunities Lalo provides. Repin took every one without any heavy breathing. His playing was secure at every level. While there was nothing remotely moving about anything he performed, the sheer sound he projected with such ease and the command he had of his instrument made a powerful impression.

The evening began with a semi-new piece by Ellen Taafe Zwilich titled “Avanti!,” a part of the series of new works commissioned by New York arts patron Agnes Gund and Charles Simonyi, once of Microsoft and now a patron of arts and sciences. Zwilich explained in the program, ”’Avanti!’ is an orchestral adaptation drawn from a recent work ‘Fanfare: Reminiscence and Celebration.'” It is very short but in customary Zwilich style, it captures one’s attention by its pithy sentiments, rendered dramatically by the SSO, led Gerard Schwarz in whose honor the work was commissioned. The piece is an effective opening gesture, quite striking in its manner of presentation. Hector Belioz’s Overture to “Benvenuto Cellini” followed. The opera is rarely done but the overture is given better treatment, and deserves it with its bundles of color and rhythmic flourishes.

Bruckner ended the evening as he always does. There was a time when Schwarz was new to big symphonic works that he ended each season usually with either a Mahler or Bruckner symphony. Now, he conducts these works whenever it suits him. The Sixth does not sprawl as do a number of its siblings. It is almost concise, broadly lyrical and often quite moving. Schwarz provided beauty of form and seamless phrases in which one idea was transformed into the next, often with eloquence. Schwarz did not lose sight of the drama of the piece but chose not to emphasize it. The result was appealing.

There were not so many solos from symphony members Thursday, but one needs to be mentioned, that of principal timpanist Michael Crusoe. What a superb, and consistent, musician he is.

The concert will be repeated Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

NEWS: Carolyn Kuan was in Seattle for about three years, first as assistant conductor of the Seattle Symphony, then associate conductor, doing all sorts and manner of concerts. She left a year ago to pursue other avenues in her career. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra announced last month she had been appointed music director, its 10th in 68 years of existence. Her first season in the three-year contract begins in September. She made her debut in December and will return in March. Born in Taiwan and educated in the United States, Kuan has made steady progress toward a major career in music. Hartford is her first music directorship. She has conducted, in addition to Seattle and Hartford, the Baltimore, Bournemouth (England), Detroit, Milwaukee, Louisville, Toledo and San Francisco symphonies as well as the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

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