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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 16
Spectacular Tchaikovsky tops the show
Arts & Entertainment
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Spectacular Tchaikovsky tops the show

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Augustin Hadelich with the Seattle Symphony
April 14
Benaroya Hall


Guest conductor Peter Oundjian began life as a violinist but shifted to conducting after a repetitive stress injury ended his playing career. His manner is easy, yet contemplative, and reminded me of Herbert von Karajan, with whom I find he took master classes. His name comes from his Armenian father, but he is Canadian. He addressed the audience briefly before beginning, and showed charm and passion for the evening's program. Throughout the evening he impressed as a conductor any great city could be lucky to have in residence; at present he is music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

We began with Christopher Rouse's (b. 1949) 'The Infernal Machine' (1981). A kind of perpetual motion work, it was, above all, fun. Showing great skill in orchestration, Rouse kept the mechanical effect interesting and playful by a kaleidoscopic evolution of sounds with many orchestral outbursts. It was a nice way to begin.

Dvorák's 'Violin Concerto in A minor' lacks the character and power of his great concerto for cello, but it is nonetheless a work worth hearing now and then. The soloist was 28-year-old Italian, Augustin Hadelich. In 1999, when Hadelich was 15 years old, a fire on his family's farm in Italy severely burned much of his upper body, including his face and bow arm. He started to play again in 2001. I mention this up front because it helps to get beyond the effect of apparent surgeries on his face, which is both attractive (exotic?) and strange. When he smiles, his friendly personality comes across and makes one forget his accident, leaving one free to enjoy his extraordinary musicianship. Certainly his playing left nothing to be desired, and he worked beautifully with the conductor. The last movement is the most familiar and uses an unforgettable folk dance tune to set the tone, and to which we often returned. Audience response was so enthusiastic that Hadelich responded with Paganini's Caprice No. 24. (An excellent YouTube video of this can be had at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s.)

But the real excitement came after intermission: Tchaikovsky's 'Symphony No. 4 in F minor.' Oundjian led the most Russian performance I have heard since Vladimir Jurowski brought the Russian National Orchestra here for Tchaikovsky's Pathetique several years ago. Every ounce of expression, energy, and beauty projected from the stage in breath-taking fashion. It was one of those performances that makes one realize again how great the Seattle Symphony is. The older I get, the more I realize how important pianissimo's, when beautifully played, are to the overall effect. Without them, the crescendo's lose most of their power. In this performance the hushed moments were stunning, and every phrase was full of expression. The work became a terrific tour de force for orchestra, and the players gave it their all.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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