what might have been

If you’re still smarting about Joshua Bell’s decision to change his program from Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto to the Brahms, then you can take solace in this amazing performance by Hillary Hahn with Mariss Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic from Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. To see the whole concert you’ll need to be a subscriber to Medici.tv, but it’s only about $16US for 30 days, so you can watch your fill and cancel your subscription if you like.


Watch it for free in five parts on YouTube – here’s part I:

the other jim gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan

One of my favorite comedians working today is Jim Gaffigan, so imagine my surprise when I found out that he was going to be conducting this weekend’s performances of the Oregon Symphony!  Well, not quite.  I actually knew that James Gaffigan, this week’s guest conductor, was not in any way a comedian (though he does have quite an impish sense of humor), but I love that these two very different men share virtually the same name.

James Gaffigan - Photo: Mat Hennek

Gaffigan (the conductor) is one of our more enjoyable guest conductors.  He doesn’t impose himself on the orchestra, rather he insinuates his interpretation into our musical psyches.  He’s amiable, clear, and takes his time getting a feel for the orchestra and the hall.  Plus, he knows his stuff.  In short, he’s almost an idea guest conductor.

This week’s program is pretty cool, I must say.  It starts with a Rossini overture, to his opera Semiramide.  It’s a delightful work, one that used to be performed often, but has fallen out of favor these days (along with overtures in general, in spite of the prodigious efforts of violist/overture advocate Jen Arnold).  It features everything you want from an overture: great tunes, sparkling orchestration, and a big finish.

Benjamin Schmid - Photo: Julia Wesely

Then comes a work that I’ve heard once live, but have never heard with orchestra: William Bolcom’s 1983 Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra.  Written for Sergiu Luca (who ran the Cascade Head Music Festival for years in Lincoln City, Oregon), the concerto is really a modern masterpiece.  Written as sort of a collision between Henryk Szeryng and Joe Venuti, it has some really striking orchestra effects, virtuoso writing for the solo violin, and a charming final movement that fully goes over to the dark side of non-classical writing (almost).  I’m very interested to hear our soloist, the German Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid, tear through this work.

The final work on the program is the Symphony No. 1 by Tchaikovsky “Winter Dreams”.  The work has its charms, though I must confess that my enjoyment of it largely comes from the fact that I’m not playing either the 4th, 5th, or 6th symphonies.  First symphonies are always interesting, however, because (except perhaps for Brahms’) they often may show only hints of the greatness that is to come.  The composer hasn’t already fully worked out his/her individual voice, and especially in transitional passages, the machinery isn’t all humming at full capacity just yet.