The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

We went to hear Leonidas Kavakos play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on Friday evening at the esplanade – got a couple of free tickets for my birthday since I signed up to be a friend of the SSO – course, it’s been months since my birthday but the tickets are valid for half a year after. I think it’s one of the few times we have had such good seats – in row H, with a good balance of the instruments – too far in front and you’ll be right in front of the entire viola section or the first violins, and they will be the loudest section in every piece.

Most classical music concerts with an orchestra feature an overture, a concerto (with a soloist), and a symphony. The overture to this particular concert was Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll – the most lulling overture I’ve ever heard. It promptly put everyone to sleep presumably so that we’d would stay awake during the Mendelssohn.

I suppose it’s age catching up with me but I no longer find it easy to stay wide awake during an SSO concerts after a day at work. Not that I do much thinking at work, but just staying alert for that long with no naps through the day plus having to wake up at 7+ in the morning makes it really hard to stay awake from 7:30 – 10:00pm. So I try to be more selective about which SSO concerts to attend. Most everyone only attends these concerts for the soloist, in this case Leonidas Kavakos. He’s done a recording for Sony of the Mendelssohn violin concerto, so he’s pretty much the expert on this violin concerto.

The rendition was beautiful, though at times slightly out of sync with the orchestra. And there was also a “oh i’ve done this thousands of times and am slightly tired of it” kind of vibe. The cynical voice of experience. His violin sounded really amazing – I was just thinking if it were cheap china violin (that they use in those blind hearing tests to compare modern violins with strads and guarneris etc.) i would certainly not be able to tell it weren’t a strad. (It turned out to be a strad.) A bit squeaky, I think, because of it’s age. But a beautiful tone, nonetheless, that worked wonderfully with the acoustics of the esplanade. The Mendelssohn vln concerto also seems to be generally set in a higher register, so the soprano register of the violin is more obvious.

The current interim concert master is Lu Gang. They’ve been having a parade of stand-ins for the concert master since Alex Souptel retired (he’s still playing 3rd desk in the first violins, just not in the concert master capacity). Somehow all the good violinists we’ve invited to try out for the post of concert master have not found it in themselves to stay. I can see why – probably agreeing to be the concert-master of this orchestra would be somewhat of a dead end, career-wise. Most of the musicians in the SSO are rather old and I can see them being inflexible in a new regime. Do we have no local talent good enough to take on the responsibility of the concert master? I know several peers from MEP who studied the violin at reputable conservatories for their degree, wonder what happened to them.

This thursday, we’ll be seeing Vladimir Feltsman play the Grieg pno concerto in A minor. Concert season has officially begun!

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