The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera performed a spectacular concert Thursday night featuring marvelous Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy as soloist in the Violin Concerto "Tributes," composed by James Stephenson in 2009.
After intermission, the orchestra delivered a stirring and atmospheric performance of the "Concerto for Orchestra" by Bela Bartok, completed in 1943.
One of the most interesting and emotionally satisfying aspects of Stephenson's Violin Concerto is the overall dramatic flow of the work, the musical peaks and valleys, so to speak. There is abundant energy infused throughout this highly engaging, three-movement work. Through clever and creative use of instrumental tonal color (orchestration), energetic rhythms and soaring melodies over rich contemporary harmonies, Stephenson delivers what must be described as an important and praiseworthy addition to the violin concerto repertoire. This is a concerto that deserves to be performed and enjoyed often throughout the world.
There is something about the mystique and musical charisma of Mulcahy's violin sound and style that captivates the ears of the listener almost immediately. A performer's sound is like their musical fingerprint; it's one of the primary elements that distinguishes one great player from the next. It is a direct reflection of the musician's character, formed through life experience and honed and strengthened through years of practice.
Throughout the duration of this astounding and beautiful concerto, we heard Mulcahy demonstrate extraordinary technical command, tonal sheen, intensity and refined musical taste, a delightful blend of power and intimacy, but always with her own distinctive sound. The composer places significant demands on the soloist, and Mulcahy was more than equal to the very worthy challenges.
By the way, it turns out that Mulcahy's violin, the instrument upon which she performed during the concert, turns 100 years old this year. According to Mulcahy, her violin was "born in the city of Modena, Italy (where balsamic vinegar comes from), in 1917. Its previous owner was the world-renowned soloist Eugene Foder, the first American to win the Tchaikovsky Concerto Competition (1974) and Paganini Competition (1972)."
It is easy to imagine that Foder would have been pleased to hear his former instrument serve the cause of beautiful music so wonderfully this evening in the hands of Mulcahy.
After intermission, the orchestra performed one of the most impressive and iconic musical compositions of the 20th century, the "Concerto for Orchestra" by Hungarian composer Bartok, premiered in 1944 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The composer said he called the piece a concerto rather than a symphony because of the way each section of instruments is treated in a soloistic and virtuosic way.
There were so many fine performances in the orchestra, it is hard to mention just a few. But particularly outstanding were the playing and leadership of Associate Concertmaster Josh Holritz, as well as the excellent playing of the entire woodwind section. The brass played with power as well as nuance, and timpanist Parker Lee negotiated his challenging part with exceptional control and musicality.
The orchestra was once again superbly conducted by Kayoko Dan, who chose an exciting and energetic program. It was announced just this past week that her contract as music director of the CSO was extended five years, through 2022. This is excellent news, indeed, and very much deserved. During her tenure, the orchestra has grown in ever new and interesting ways. We look forward to many more such wonderful concerts under Maestra Dan in the future.
Douglas Hedwig was a trumpeter with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City for 27 years and also was on the faculty of The Juilliard School. He is professor emeritus of Music at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and his compositions are published by Carl Fischer Music and TNR Music Publishers. He and his wife, Mimi Jones Hedwig, moved to Chattanooga in 2013.