Once upon a time, I wrote an announcement about a little blog series I planned to work on this season. The first installment occurred all the way back in September 2016 and featured the one and only Joshua Bell with the Tulsa Symphony and Dan Hege conducting.
Then, for several months, not a violin solo was heard, not even a mouse, as we played The Nutcracker (ad nausea) and countless other serious and not-so-serious concert programs in between.
Perhaps to keep me working on one of my resolutions (to write every day), there is now a slew of upcoming violin soloists on my calendar, and I'm a little worried I am going to fall behind!
Hello, 2017! Happy New Year!
My first concert of 2017 was with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. I won a partial contract with them in late summer and the stars finally aligned for me to perform with them. Having regularly attended their concerts during grad school, I was eager to join them onstage and play alongside many of my university professors.
The OKC Philharmonic is in an interesting situation this season; their long-time Music Director is retiring at the end of the year and they are in the midst of a search for a new one. Each concert this season features a different candidate on the podium. This was the third new face and it was interesting to hear the orchestra members compare the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate thus far.
Bear with me here as I now try to weave my high school memories with the present blog post.
This week the conductor was David Lockington.
Several seasons ago, Lockington led the Tulsa Symphony in a great program including Beethoven Symphony No.7 and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto (a pretty stellar program) featuring his wife Dylana Jensen as the violin soloist. As I recall, she was fantastic. Dylana was one of those rare child prodigies that managed to make a recording with the famed Philidelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. For more on her, click here.
David Lockington took great care with the details in each piece. A cellist himself, it is clear that he is a musician who holds himself to a high standard and expects the same from the orchestra. To read more about him, click here. I LOVE his recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons with Anne Akiko Meyers. So tight, so precise, and so musical.
Many moons ago, when I was a wee high schooler at Interlochen Arts Academy Dylana would visit occasionally and give masterclasses and visit her daughter (a creative writing major at the time). It is just so funny and charming when the music world works like that. I remember her being a fiery and passionate teacher and performer.
The best, most unexpected surprise of the week was a reunion with Steven Li! Steven and I went to high school together in Michigan. Steven was a senior when I was a freshman and he was the violin superstar. We hadn't seen each other in 15 or 16 years. It was a real treat to reconnect and share the stage again. He lives in Fort Worth now with his family and is a full time member of the Fort Worth Symphony (Associate Principal Second to be exact).
Anyways, back to 2017...
Hye-Jin Kim is an up-and-coming violin soloist who is just taking off on what will likely be an exciting career! Here is an excerpt from her bio:
Describing the artistry of violinist Hye-Jin Kim, winner of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, The Strad lauded her “heart-stopping, unrivalled beauty” of sound and her “supremely musical playing, well-thought out, yet of the moment.” Ms. Kim’s sensitivity to the expressive and contextual components of the violin repertoire enables her to transport audiences beyond mere technical virtuosity, and this remarkable musical depth and passion brought her to international prominence when she was awarded First Prize at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition at the age of nineteen.
Ms. Kim has performed as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach and the New Jersey Symphony with Gerard Schwarz, as well as with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Pan Asia Symphony (Hong Kong), and Hannover Chamber Orchestra. She has appeared in major venues including Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Kimmel Center Verizon Hall, the Kravis Center, Salzburg’s Mirabel Schloss, St. John’s Smith Square, and Wigmore Hall in London. At the invitation of Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she performed at the U.N. Headquarters in Geneva and New York. Ms. Kim has also served as a cultural representative for Korea in Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan through concert and outreach engagements.
She performed Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No.3 in B minor with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic
Hye-Jin's performance was exciting! The audience gave her a standing ovation at the end. To read the review of the performance, click here. Honestly, I don't think I've heard someone perform this with an orchestra since high school when two of my violin studio mates won the annual concerto competition with it. Now, I want to dig out my old, coffee-stained part and relearn it. It is so virtuosic and violinistic with big flashy runs high up the E string (and G string), chords galore, and beautiful singing melodies. To hear some of Hye-Jin's playing click here for recordings available on the OKC Philharmonic website.
And not to be shallow or anything but....
Her performance dress is one of my all time favorites thus far IN MY LIFE. As soon as she walked out on stage, I admired it. The bright colors and bold modern cut were riveting. It was a confident dress that didn't didn't appear to sacrifice comfort for couture. I have since scoured the internet for a photo of it but no luck. It is driving me crazy! If anyone reading this happens to have a photo, please upload it in the comments section (I'm begging you).
Typically (and rather tragically) this piece is often taught as a pedagogical steppingstone and then abandoned in pursuit of some of the 'bigger' repertoire (think Sibelius, Brahms, Beethoven, etc.).
Digging around trying to find a recording of the complete concerto I found this one performed by Louis Kaufman. What A pleasant surprise! Kaufman was a very important figure in the violin world and is mostly famous for his performances of new music. This recording of the Saint-Saens is really charming - I hope you enjoy it!
Now that I'm an adult, and have studied violin repertoire for several years now I find this concerto to be sort of strange. I LOVE the beginning, it is so intense and fiery! The melodic material is gorgeous and lush but I feel unfulfilled after the first movement as if Saint-Saens hinted at a musical climax that was never fully realized. I think because of this, the concerto demands a through-listening. You get the sense that the pacing takes place on a larger arc than just one movement at a time.
Here's a little info about the piece....
The Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 was premiered in 1880 and was originally dedicated to the famous Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. ~Can you hear the Spanish flair? Typically, when pieces are dedicated to a specific performer, especially one with such a specific musical identity, have trademarks and homages written in paying tribute to the performer. When you listen to this concerto now, can you hear the Spanish inflection? The insinuation of dances, melodies, and flair?
But where is the cadenza?
WHAT?! The cadenza, to any non-performers/musicians who might stumble upon this, is a soloist's big unaccompanied moment to shine. Often found at the end of a movement (but definitely not always), the cadenza is typically filled with all the flash and panache the composer/performer can muster. It is a soloist's bread and butter. It almost feels impolite to refuse a soloist their moment of hard-earned bravado but Saint-Saens did not care to leave space for one. An interesting choice and one that musicologists can probably explain much more articulately than I can.
The other pieces on the program were Copland's Buckaroo Holiday and Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. I don't often listen to either of these pieces and forgot how much I love the Enigma Variations. Especially Nimrod, one of the most glorious, achingly beautiful pieces ever written in my opinion. Lush with emotion, it is as moving to play it as it is to hear it.
On that note, enjoy!