Leonidas Kavakos, violinist
From the opening of the first movement, Kavakos, conductor Iván Fischer, and the NSO had difficulty forming a cohesive unit. At an AfterWords talk following the concert, Kavakos spoke about his way of phrasing, which explained something of the surging nature of his performance, saying that if left to itself a phrase would unfold gently but that if impelled it will have its own spark of energy. This propulsion forward left the NSO players in the dust many times, although there were many calming moments, like the transition to the second theme in the opening movement, where the flow came almost to a stop as Kavakos savored the tender, plangent tone applied to the new theme. Kavakos's approach to music may be benefiting from his recent forays into conducting, since his appointment in 2007 as artistic director of Camerata Salzburg. After the concert, he said conducting has been a long-held dream, motivated primarily by a fascination with the Bruckner symphonies. He noted that the repertory for solo violin has its limits and that he may have reached them (players of even less represented instruments like the bassoon likely do not feel much sympathy for the violinist's plight) and that learning so many new scores for his conducting work, although it takes up much of his time, has given him a more symphonic view in his work as soloist.
The first-movement cadenza displayed the admirable match between Kavakos and his new instrument, a 1782 Guadagnini that he picked up last summer, with pure intonation and present, but not overpowering tone across all strings. Here and in the demanding third movement, the agility and accuracy of Kavakos's left hand were practically faultless, striking a balance between fairy-dust lightness and combustible power.
Daniel Kellogg, composer
The concert opened with the world premiere of a new orchestral work by Colorado composer Daniel Kellogg, Western Skies, an NSO commission made possible by a gift from the Hechinger Fund. The composer remarked at the AfterWords event that he had cast out most of his first drafts for the commission when he learned that the NSO was planning to take this program on its upcoming tour of China and South Korea. He settled instead upon the idea of depicting in music the mythic expanses of the American West, as seen from his home in Boulder, Colo. He did so with seventeen minutes of music of striking homogeneity, a bubbling unfolding of sound recalling the Klangfarbenmelodie of the Second Viennese School -- from a static repetition that builds and recedes, individual colors condense and evaporate, including clarinet arpeggios, glockenspiel pings, bowed vibraphone irradiations, tuba bleats. Overtones of Coplandesque Americana were everywhere, as well as hints of the Britten Sea Interludes in the second movement (Moonbeams in the Snow), where monolithic brass chords unsettled more stable harmonies. The stasis was finally disturbed slightly with greater rhythmic activity in the third movement (White Mountains on the Horizon), but as easy on the ear as it was there was little to ponder afterward. The composer's program notes read like a Colorado travelogue, to the point that one hopes he received a stipend from the Colorado Tourism Office. The piece may have a future as the soundtrack to future "Ski Colorado" ads.
Anne Midgette, For the NSO, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Time Is a Charmer (Washington Post, April 17)
This concert repeats tonight (April 17, 8 pm -- with Kavakos playing the Tchaikovsky concerto) and tomorrow night (April 18, 8 pm -- back to the Mendelssohn concerto) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Conductor David Zinman is the star of next week's concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra (April 23 to 25), leading performances of Webern's Langsamer Satz (arr. Gerard Schwarz), Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, op. 4, and the Brahms fourth symphony.