Finally. Weinberg violin concerto, Gidon Kremer with the Boston symphony Orchestra.
Injustice perpetuates itself.
Sitting in a comfortable room, half a century removed from the disgusting treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany and then in Stalin’s Russia, it visits us once again, walking through the Symphony Hall doors just as easily as any patron with a ticket.
The point? This program marked the first performance of any of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s music by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It’s not an injustice perpetuated by the BSO—not entirely. Almost nobody performs music of this prolific and interesting composer.
Of course many composers’ works never reach grand stages like this, but Weinberg’s seems a particular omission—one directly related to the political oppression he lived under. Those details can be found in the program notes, and in an excellent story by Penny Schwartz on WBUR’s ARTery.
It is interesting to add, however, that after the fall of the Soviet empire, and the subsequent liberation of Eastern European music that brought to life the beautiful catalogs of Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki and Sofia Gubaidulina (and others), Weinberg’s music continues to be ignored.
Perhaps it wouldn’t translate well in recordings—those composers had well-received disks that circulated before their music made it regularly to the concert stage.
Certainly this violin concerto, performed by the venerable Gidon Kremer under the baton of Juanjo Mena, would not entirely appeal on disk. Its beauties too subtle, its musical complexity too subtle as well.
From the furious double-stopped introduction, the concerto never lets up on its demands of the soloist. Great violinists are always up for the technical challenges of virtuosic pieces; fewer of them attack the musical challenges of works like this.
The pitch intervals, many unexpected and confrontational, stretched the limits of memory (Kremer used the score, wisely). Although melodically and harmonically Weinberg’s concerto was not demanding on the listener—much repetitive phrasing, especially the five-note figure that filled the entire third movement Adagio—those unique intervals created challenges. It would be interesting to talk to Kremer afterward—he alone would know how many of them he hit with precision. (He did tune extensively after the first movement—another wise move.)
The concerto had four marked movements, but the middle pair—marked Allegretto then Adagio—were played attacca, linked wonderfully by a cadenza. That cadenza was introduced by the soloist and a drone accompaniment of strings—a beautiful touch.
This concerto had everything necessary to deserve repeated explorations: challenging music, unusual approaches, rich orchestration, and surface appeal. Let’s hear more.
Actually, we did. Kremer encored with a short, dark Prelude by Weinberg, (Op. 100, no. 5), originally written for cello and transcribed by the violinist.
The program included Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony—always a treat—and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The Fourth, with its boisterous opening and closing movements an unsettling contrast to the ingenious middle movements (that pizzicato scherzo—something else), always presents personality problems for this listener. But the playing—the challenging string writing, and the clever winds in the middle movements—made it worth every second.
This BSO program runs through Tuesday, Jan. 24. bso.org; 866-266-1200.
CADENCES: To my knowledge, Gil Shaham has not (yet) included Weinberg’s work (1939) in his 1930’s violin concerto project. Anyone else bothered by the forest of microphones that have permanently moved into Symphony Hall? Fun sighting: first skateboard ever in the audience. Wouldn’t coat-check it presumably—couldn’t be separated from his Angelboy. Saw the chap sailing up Mass. Ave. after the concert. Alexander Velinzon concertmaster for the Prokofiev and Weinberg: been a long time since that happened. Always appropriate to my mind, but particularly so in this rep. Fun fact: new diorama in the downstairs hallway, with photos of Yehudi Menuhin (debut at 17 with BSO) in short pants (not for the debut performance, I assume) and of Nadia Boulanger, first woman to conduct BSO, in 1938. Not completely sold out on Thursday but close. Cryptic note in the program about gift of Michael Nieland to the orchestra of two rare violins (1754 Guadagnini and 1775 Gagliano); who are the players?