October 2010

Charleston, Charleston...The Netherlands, Detroit...

October 29, 2010 04:48

A week of Young People's Concerts has passed - these were with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and conducted by my friend and colleague James Fellenbaum. The last time I played concerts like these was in 2006 while living in San Antonio and performing as a substitute with the San Antonio Symphony.

Having recently celebrated my fortieth birthday, I find myself looking at many things from both an impersonal historical perspective AND a personal one. I'm sure that it is safe to say that I am one of many people now working in classical music whose first exposure to the art forms was through events like Young People's Concerts, trips to see "The Nutcracker" at Christmas, and public television. How I remember those times: field trips! In Charleston, we would either pack our lunches at home or break into our piggybanks to buy lunches at The Gourmetisserie (which no longer exists in name), a cavernous space in which one would find one's heart's desire - of course, as a second or third grader it was wonderful to have those kinds of lunch choices instead of the school cafeteria...memories aside, it is because of these events that I always feel a certain inner excitement and responsibility when playing for young people.

Needless to say, because of my feelings for these concerts and the sense of gratitude I hold for those who organized county-wide field trips to the Charleston Symphony and the Charleston Ballet during my childhood, it has been disheartening on many levels to watch the events surrounding the Charleston Symphony. As everyone knows, the Charleston Symphony suspended operations in March of this year, with both management and the board citing very serious financial challenges including "a significant drop in fundraising dollars, exacerbated by the recession's "strong headwind'." The symphony had been in a serious transition since the 2008-2009 season, managing a tremulous financial situation by reducing both the number of full-time players in the orchestra AND the number of performance weeks. Additionally, at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season music director David Stahl announced that he would be relinquishing his post as music director, phasing out his involvement with the orchestra by 2012. At that time the orchestra was also without a permanent executive director and a resident conductor.

With all of this "bad news", it has been especially saddening to hear of David Stahl's recent death, as this nevertheless adds an even more serious tone to the Charleston dilemma.

I remember the excitement surrounding the late maestro upon his arrival in Charleston and while I did not perform with the orchestra until the 2006-2007 season, many of my friends and colleagues started their orchestral careers in the Charleston Symphony. During Maestro Stahl's tenure, the orchestra grew from being a modest community orchestra to one of the most important regional orchestras in the nation. Many of the musicians that began their careers in the Charleston Symphony later secured positions in orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. It was always a GREAT delight to hear the orchestra during school breaks, holidays, and the Spoleto Festival and - as many friends played in the orchestra at times - wonderful to reconnect with colleagues with whom relationships were formed at music festivals and in conservatory.

Of course, everyone who has had an opportunity to work with David Stahl in any capacity is grieving in some form, and we are all watching, hoping for some sort of resolution to this situation. On a deeper level, it is heartbreaking to know that the experience that brought music to me is one that young people of my home city are not having at the moment and - dare I say - may never have again. While that statement may seem to reek of sentimentalia, I can hope that whoever reads this entry realizes the importance of our artistic institutions and recognizes that beyond the dollars and cents issues there is an abstract, long-term meaning and reason for their existence.

Now more than ever, we have to work hard, diligently, and unceasingly to ensure the survival of orchestras and cultural institutions across the globe. It is indeed disturbing to imagine a world without.

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Knoxville, September of 2010 - Dylana Jenson and the Tchaikovsky Concerto

October 7, 2010 14:38

In his notes about Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, Chicago Symphony program annotator Philip Huscher notes that Tchaikovsky was incredibly inspired by Edouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, as well as impressed by the way that Lalo thought “more about musical beauty than observing established traditions".  While Tchaikovsky completed his concerto rather quickly, however, performances of the work did run into problems, the first being Leopold Auer’s declaration that the concerto was “unplayable”.     Ironically, after the work was premiered in Vienna by Adolf Brodsky and became one of the most loved of Tchaikovsky’s works despite a crushing review, Mr. Auer became somewhat the chief exponent of the concerto, adding it to his repertoire and teaching it to his students, including Toscha Seidel, Efrem Zimbalist, Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, and Nathan Milstein – all of whom became the greatest exponents of the work during the twentieth century.

While the concerto is definitely a tour de force, requiring a complete technique, great musical sensibilities and almost Herculean stamina of the violinist who undertakes both the tasks of learning and performing it, “unplayable” is not the word that came to mind while hearing Dylana Jenson’s performances with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on September 23 and 24, 2010.   Ms. Jenson is a consummate master of the violin and this was the second time that I have heard her in live performance, the first being a stunning 2003 performance of the Goldmark Concerto with the Louisiana Philharmonic.    Of the 2003 performance it must be said that the orchestra was captivated by her playing, particularly her heartfelt rendering of the Andante (if memory serves me, there were tears in the eyes of a few violinists after the first four measures).

Back to September 2010:  from her first notes, it was clear that Ms. Jenson’s performance of the Tchaikovsky was going to be like no other that I have heard.    Throughout the first movement Ms. Jenson played with a sumptuous tone and an incredibly sophisticated sense of phrasing, a sense of undulation permeating the cantabile sections.    Unlike many violinists who approach the knotty double stops and quicksilver scales as “show-off” sections, however, Ms. Jensen played those sections – and shaped them – effortlessly while also placing them in the appropriate musical context of the movement.    This was not a self-indulgent exhibition of acrobatic ability: rather, this was a true dialogue – a journey, if I may.

One could easily say that the lack of self-aggrandizement inherent in this performance came from the fact that Ms. Jenson has nothing to “prove”: after all, she was a silver medalist in the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition and has performed as soloist with orchestras throughout the world.    However, if one studies her recordings – particularly her most recent recording of the Shostakovich and Barber concerti as well as her very famous recording of the Sibelius Concerto – one will hear the sense of selflessness, assurance, and musical reverence that was hallmark of this recent performance.

This sense of reverence and exploration was evident in the very intimate Canzonetta.    Ms. Jenson was introspective rather than “large” in this movement, using a huge expressive palate including notes sculpted with the bow and played sans vibrato, and high notes tenderly cascading through the air like incense smoke.     Again, not expected, yet this seemingly understated interpretation was most convincing and beautiful, with equally compelling accompaniment from clarinetist Gary Sperl and flutist Nadine Hur.

Ms. Jenson showed herself to be a firebrand during the Finale, which was definitely a fiery Allegro vivacissimo.   With technique to burn, Ms. Jenson showed great dexterity throughout, alternating an unusual lightness in sixteenth-note passages with weighty yet quicksilver double-stop playing.    Her knowledge of musical language truly showed itself here:  in many of those sections one could hear the continuum in Russian music that appears in the vertical attacks found in both Stravinsky and Shostakovich.     This was balanced by a wondrous sense of musical space and time in the legato sections and, in the short unaccompanied sections, a real sense of musical structure and – with the conspicuous yet convincing absence of vibrato used to heighten tritones and other dissonances – musical humor.

Lucas Richman and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra accompanied Ms. Jenson both attentively and convincingly during the entire work, the orchestra joining the excitement that led to a triumphant finish rewarded with long standing ovations on after both performances.

With having received overwhemingly glowing reviews for her recent recording of the Shostakovich and Barber concerti, it is clear that Dylana Jenson remains one of the most important violinists and compelling musicians of our time.   


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