Tough ‘Espagnole’ tests virtuoso violinist’s skill
Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" for violin and orchestra is just what audiences love: a soloist grabbing the bull by its horns, a crowd-pleasing showpiece filled with bravura, flashy runs and sweet melodies.
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $22 to $73
Call: 792-2000 or Ticketmaster, 877-750-4400
Add a brilliant virtuoso armed with a Stradivarius, and you'll go home with your head spinning from the fireworks. Thank Japanese-Canadian Karen Gomyo for that. She's a fantastic violinist whose career began at 15, when she won the 1997 Young Artists International Competitions. A child prodigy? You bet. But you can't stay one forever. Think of all the child actors who never got past their disarming but annoying smiles. You've got to grow up at some point.
Unfazed by her early success, Gomyo has kept her head squarely on her shoulders. When she's not busy touring the world with major orchestras, she has continued to hone her skills in renowned U.S. music schools. (We know about MIT or CalTech for science majors, but where are the main musical institutions? Beyond New York's Juilliard and Philly's Curtis Institute, there's also the New England Conservatory and Bloomington's Indiana University, two schools our soloist attended.)
The "Symphonie Espagnole" is French for "Spanish symphony," but this is more of a violin concerto with great Iberian flair. Lalo was a French composer of the Romantic era whose south-of-the-border origins come alive in this favorite of many violinists. Performing the work is like taking center stage all for yourself, and you can't hide. Right off the bat, there's a dramatic entrance from the soloist. It's powerful and announces plenty more. When you're not as talented as Gomyo, this introduction can sound like a cacophony of shrieking screams.
Trust me, I've had my share of experiences, both as a player and teacher. The rest of the piece doesn't get any easier. The joyful finale is bundled with challenging runs that are only effective if you can muster a charming smile. I am not kidding, it's one of those toothpaste moments where your teeth must shine the whitest.
The Russian composer Shostakovich didn't have much reason to smile in 1936. Despite an early high approval rate, he would wake up one day the recipient of a scathing review by the state-run Pravda, ordered by none other than Stalin. Condemned for its lack of patriotism, his music was criticized for failing to lift the spirit of the people.
In truth, the composer was expanding his flourishing creativity, never anticipating that a doctrine would impede his artistic freedom. In the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich set out to earn back the good graces of the government with a work labeled as "a Soviet artist's response to just criticism."
Listening to Shostakovich's music is like reading between the lines. There are tender melodies and resounding marches, but much more lies beneath the surface. At first, Shostakovich appears to ask for forgiveness, with a journey through redemption, from despair to deliverance.
Or does he? The eerie sounds of the strings in the opening reflect the oppression felt by many artists during that time. The lyricism is imbued with darkness. Even the exonerating, victorious finale, with its raucous cymbals and kettle drums, depicts an artist forcing a smile, victim of merciless leaders.
Our fearless leader this weekend will be maestro Jacques Lacombe, who will bring his Canadian expertise to the podium. An exciting young conductor who made his Metropolitan debut last season, Lacombe will bring many colors to the stage.
Ignace "Iggy" Jang
is the Honolulu Symphony's concertmaster. His column will appear on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail comments and questions to Jang at firstname.lastname@example.org