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A passionate performance

New World Center
12/14/2013 -  & December 15, 2013
Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto
Richard Wagner (arr. Vlieger): Tristan und Isolde: An Orchestral Passion

Leila Josefowicz (violin)
New World Symphony Orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth (conductor)

M. Wigglesworth (© Ben Ealovega)

New World Symphony’s program began with Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, a work that has challenged audiences and musicians since its premiere over eighty years ago. Though played by a full orchestra, this work always has, within its neoclassical intentions, the intimate feeling of chamber music. So often when telling someone about a Stravinsky work, the words “interesting” and “daring” get thrown around more than “beautiful” which is usually reserved for something romantic. Perhaps the best adjective to describe this performance is “gripping” because the soloist Leila Josefowicz cuts no slack giving the audience only moments to catch its breath between movements. Stravinsky will never be a composer for those unwilling to take an adventure. The genial good spirit of the first movement morphs into two very serious ones and is bookended by something that might be considered a hoedown. It is easy to understand how this work would inspire George Balanchine for one of his most complex and satisfying ballets. But even those who do not appreciate Stravinsky cannot ignore the many different melodies and rhythms that are found here. It might be inaccurate to call them “pretty,” but with an artist of Josefowicz’s caliber, they are unforgettable. Conductor Mark Wigglesworth gave her a mandatory solid and unobtrusive foundation.

The concerto was followed by a work titled Tristan und Isolde: An Orchestral Passion. A symphonic synthesis of an opera is not uncommon, but I, myself, was unaware that one for Tristan und Isolde even existed. It was gratifying to see it offered on this season’s schedule. And though it might seem incomplete to condense four hours of music into just one, Dutch composer Henk de Vlieger, back in 1994, created a richly rewarding suite. I missed Isolde’s curse which seems essential to the telling of this tale, but by assigning singing roles to certain instruments it felt in no way musically lacking. In fact when hearing Tristan und Isolde in the opera house, it is usually somewhat unsatisfying since one of the two leads is usually significantly better than the other.

But it is Mark Wigglesworth who deserves most credit for giving this piece its vitality. It is a massive work with incredible detail but the conductor found the essential subtlety in this most romantic of operas. The big moments were never deafening but simply part of the huge Wagner palette.

People often unjustly regard Wagner’s work as “heavy"; big, of course, but under a conductor this sensitive, nothing feels leaden. In fact there were moments that I have never heard given with such sweetness and delicacy. The English horn solo given by Joseph Peters naturally gets special praise, but he truly was that good; he seemed to be simply having fun. Katerina Istomin exhibited special artistry for the many moments when the viola must tenderly underscore dramatic passages. The essential harp, giving the hypnotizing watery passages, was under the assuredly lush command of Grace Browning. For those hoping to have Tristan und Isolde given its Florida premiere in the coming seasons, this is an ideal introduction. This time a thunderous ovation was given because of the orchestra’s complete reverence for the composer. Granted Wagner gave them something pretty good to work with, and New World Symphony met the challenge with both tremendous power and refined elegance.

Jeff Haller



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