Orchestral Music Review Print



Falletta and Josefowicz in Beethoven at BMC

July 6, 2008 - Brevard, NC:


The guest conductor for the Brevard Music Center Orchestra's Sunday afternoon event was JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and also the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. The guest soloist was violinist Leila Josefowicz, Canadian-born but American-trained, a former child prodigy now in her thirties and moving into a mature career. The program consisted of three pieces that have proven track records as crowd pleasers.

The concert began with the 20th-century American work "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams. I am not fond of strict minimalist music, but Adams is a composer who has internalized the lessons of minimalism and judiciously mixes them with other compositional principles, and I liked this piece immensely upon first hearing it 20 years ago. A frenetic work, with its incessant percussion accompaniment, "Short Ride" requires a conductor with a firm hand and no hesitancy. Falletta provided that direction, and the orchestra responded in kind.

In a pre-concert lecture, Bruce Murray described the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major as a prime example of the classical principles of consistency and connectedness. The entire concerto arises from two central ideas, making it deceptively simple to analyze. It is this inherent simplicity, combined with Beethoven's genius in execution, that makes the concerto difficult to perform unless the soloist has maturity as well as talent.

With the importance of "internal cross-references" in mind, I raised eyebrows when I learned that Josefowicz had written her own cadenzas for the first and third movements. Was this youthful musician in over her depth in proposing cadenzas to add to the three or four usual sets and the many others lurking in the wings? In the opinion of this listener, she was successful, building her cadenzas on mostly conventional concepts, adding a few modulations plus the unusual step of using tympani along with the violin in the first movement cadenza, a concept that Beethoven had sketched. There are many examples in Beethoven of repeated rhythmic tattoos as compositional elements, so it was in character.

In the remainder of the concerto, Josefowicz's delicate pianissimos were risk-taking in an outdoor concert. She demonstrated a buttery smooth sound early in the larghetto, and then the butter turned to milk as she milked the theme to extract all the emotion that was possible. This was a romantic Beethoven.

My memories of notable Beethoven performances include Perlman and Zuckerman sounding like variations on Isaac Stern, which is not altogether a bad thing. I found Josefowicz's Beethoven to be refreshingly different. Perhaps her interpretation stems from her Curtis School teachers Jaime Laredo and Jascha Brodsky. I would not know. I only know that Josefowicz's Beethoven will be stored among the notable renditions in my memory.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade has always seemed long and repetitious to me, but that may be inevitable since the plot involves a bride who tells stories for 101 nights in order to save her life. The lush orchestration provides rich coloration for the orchestra to explore, and solos abound in this piece for the wind section and for principal string players. During most solo passages, Falletta dropped her arms and allowed the soloists the dignity of determining their own tempi and interpretation. Concertmaster William Preucil played the exotic theme associated with the bride, accompanied by harpist Anastasia Jellison, giving us a second example of superb violin playing for the day.

All afternoon, Maestra Falletta provided clear direction when needed and restraint when possible. In the opening Adams work, she conveyed a controlled sense of urgency without allowing the orchestra to sound hectic. Her accompaniment of Josefowicz was respectful and helpful. She conducted the Rimsky-Korsakov without a score, holding her baton high and using huge arm motions when emotion was called for. I wondered if she had a shoulder massage scheduled after the performance.

Note: The Brevard Music Festival continues through August 10. For details, click here.