Stefan Jackiw Shines in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy

October 20, 2023, 2:59 PM · It was one of those magical nights when a performer exceeds expectations. And expectations were high for violinist Stefan Jackiw, who treated the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra audience to a dazzling performance of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy – a piece that delivers all the virtuosic fireworks, but whose beauty absolutely rests on the pristine simplicity of its folk melodies.

Stefan Jackiw
Knoxville Symphony conductor Aram Demirjian and violinist Stefan Jackiw. Photo by Trianne Newbrey.

Jackiw is one of those performers who knocks off excruciatingly difficult passages with ease. Artists of his caliber, however, can sometimes overplay the melodic sections. Not so with Jackiw. He dialed back his rich sound (and gorgeous vibrato) to show us the true heart of the music, which lies in its simple, haunting melodies, not the fiery variations upon which they are based.

Jackiw is an energetic performer whose entire body conveys the music’s emotional path. His bow control is not to be believed, both at the beginning of the work (when a lesser player would be hard-pressed not to show at least a hint of nerves) and during one sustained low note that seemingly went on forever without a bow change. Jackiw’s tone kept spinning out and yet his bow was moving in what could only have been mere millimeters. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Like most of us, I enjoy watching performers who are fun to watch. It’s a fairly basic desire on my part. I want to see someone who is connecting with the orchestra, conductor, and audience – oh, and to the work being performed. Jackiw has such incredible command of his instrument and the piece that there was never a moment of questioning whether he was up to the task. His body language seemed to say, "Sit back and I’ll take you on a wonderful journey and, trust me, I won’t let you miss a thing."

Stefan Jackiw plays with Knoxville Symphony
Stefan Jackiw performs with the Knoxville Symphony. Photo by Trianne Newbrey.

KSO Music Director Aram Demirjian was a worthy partner to Jackiw, attentive at every turn and matching his youthful enthusiasm bounce for bounce. The orchestra played with a sparkling confidence befitting a soloist of this stature. Special kudos to these principal players: Devan Jaquez, flute, Claire Chenette, oboe, and Jeffery Whaley, horn.

Also on the program was Anna Clyne's marvelously entertaining Pivot and Beethoven's ever-beautiful Symphony #6 (Pastoral).

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October 22, 2023 at 02:50 AM · Sounds totally Rapturous Such a positive environment wish I was there thanks

October 22, 2023 at 08:09 PM · What a beautiful review of a beautiful concert. I know you’ve been a fan of Stefan’s for a while, and how wonderful that he stopped by Knoxville just for you! His performance sounds like the one I heard last night: Augustin Hadelich playing Mendelssohn with the LA Chamber Orchestra. Quite spectacular, and Stefan and Augustin play with a similar unforced and velvety sound, letting the bow and the (admittedly great) violin do the work. There’s good fiddlin in the air!

October 23, 2023 at 01:17 AM · Matt, I wish you had been there also! It really was wonderful!

David, We were definitely lucky to get Stefan in Knoxville! I thought it was because he and Demirjian went to college together, but I think you're right: he knew his biggest fan lives there! I've not yet had the opportunity to hear Hadelich, but he's on my wish list. I believe we'll be hearing more from Laurie about her experiences listening to him this weekend, including being feet from him during a video session in which he played some of the Mendelssohn slow movement!

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