The current essay provides a critical account of two performances of classical music which I visited during the course. Based on the advice of my friends and information that I borrowed from various resources the first concert of classic music that I visited was the Violin Virtuoso Extraordinaire concert which took place on October 11 in Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. It was a violin concerto played by Yi-Jia Hou, a talented violinist, and conducted by Bernhard Gueller.
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The second one was the Brahms festival with Jon Kimura Parker playing classical piano concertos conducted by Bernhard Gueller. The critical comparative analysis is based on personal experience and the discussion of performers’ personalities and the composers whose music was performed. The quality and peculiarity of performance, personal skill of soloists, pianists, and conductors are analyzed with a particular emphasis on repertoire, settings, work of the orchestra. All these are evaluated in terms of my artistic perspectives.
The first classical music concert was a real revelation to me as I enjoyed a beautiful performance by the Canadian violinist Susanne Yi-Jia Hou which is regarded by many specialists as one of the leading soloists in violin concerts. Her repertoire is very extensive including violin concertos of such masters as Bach, Brahms, Bruch, Shostakovich, Mozart, Paganini, and many others.
Among the works that she played that evening were Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Saint-Saens’s Intro and Rondo capriccioso for violin and orchestra, and Bela Bartok’s Divertimento. Besides this, the orchestra conducted by Bernhard Gueller played a magnificent Symphony 39 created by Mozart. My anticipation of qualitative conduct by Gueller was great since he is an acclaimed professional in Romantic, Classical, and late Romantic music which was widely represented in this concert. Moreover, he is renowned experimentation, interpreter and is proficient in conducting large-scale works such as Mozart’s symphony for small orchestras.
Bartok’s Divertimento played by Yi-Jia Hou was the piece I particularly anticipated for hearing live since from historical accounts I knew that this music had a shocking effect on the audience when first performed in 1939. I think that the young Canadian violinist made her part very well though there were some major shortcomings. It was very difficult to vary changing tonalities which are abundant in this Bartok’s peace. It can be characterized by constant variation between dodecaphonic atonalities and melodic themes. It is also difficult to perform since it needs consolidated and effective work of conductor and orchestra.
This is not to blame Hou but some cellos and drums sometimes took wrong notes which is notable not only for professionals but for the ordinary classical music fan. Bartok’s work has three movements that vary from F Major to the modal scale which is based on D and back again to F. Moreover, Bartok uses solo strings against a large group of strings which unites his Divertimento with concerto grosso.
The opening movement was performed by Hou in an energizing manner though it is written in Allegro non troppo which seems to be a considerable deviation from Bartok’s original idea in my view this interpretation was partly motivated by Gueller.
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The abundance of inversions, canons was particularly thrilling and in harmony with the violin solo. The second movement which is described by many as ‘Night Music’ was particularly close to Bartok’s original performance and showed Hou’s artistic skills in full scale.
She not only played it well but also was successful in improvisations. And finally, the third movement which can be described as the fugato section was played professionally but a little bit slower than I supposed it to be. Hou violin created an atmosphere of music mocking at itself. Notwithstanding these little shortcomings, Bartok Divertiment played by Hou and conducted by Gueller was very interesting for me in terms of improving my musical skills. I like it very much.
The play of Mendelssohn violin concerto was perfect and I heard it live for the first time. It seems that this Violin Concert is a visit card of Hou since she plays it easily and vigorously. Due to the lack of space, I will not analyze other pieces performed during this evening but there is no denying the importance of the fact that they manifested Gueller’s great conductor skills and Hour play on the violin.
In comparison to the second concert that I visited the abovementioned performance has significant advantages which are mainly connected to the soloist play. I believe that Hou was more professional than Jon Kimura Parker who played classical piano during Brahms Festival on 6 November. The conductor was the same: Bernhard Gueller and hence no flaws in conducting the orchestra were apparent.
Kimura Parker performed Brahms’s Piano Concerto # 1 and the orchestra performed Brahms’s Symphony #3. When preparing to watch this performance I thought of a wonderful recording of Brahms’s piano concertos made by Ashkenazy and Richter and anticipated something equal to this.
The first movement was performed well following sonata form including exposition, then development, coda, and recapitulation. It seems that Parker didn’t express the heroics of Brahms’s allusion to Beethoven’s 9 symphony which is present in the first movement. He was rigorous and academic but lacked the necessary artistic expression. It was too plain and smooth and that did not impress me much.
Besides this, I did not like the play of tonic minor chords which are crucial elements of this concerto. They were not performed rhythmically and dynamically as they should have been.
The second movement of the concerto was performed perfectly. This is particularly the case for the accompaniment of the opening hymnal recalls. The communication between orchestra and piano was harmonic and the final section of the movement created a real emotional climax. What concerns the final movement it was performed in form of rondo with Parker introducing the main theme then followed by the orchestra which is repeated once again.
This was performed using spacious coda which was followed by the secondary theme played in D major. All sections of the final movement were performed well by Parker but he considerably lagged behind the orchestra in the final section which was easy to note. Notwithstanding these apparent drawbacks in his performance, my impression of his play was quite positive.
The general positive impression from the concert was reinforced by the orchestra conducted by Gueller performing beautiful Brahms’s Third Symphony. As in the case with the first concert, I visited Gueller’s conducting skills and professionalism were evident.
To sum it up while assessing both classical music concertos I visited during this course I relied on my personal experience and understanding of qualitative performance criteria. Quite subjectively I consider the first concerto I visited to be more professional and interesting in terms of solo play and orchestra performance. Though it is difficult to assess the professionalism of performers playing on different musical instruments such as violin and piano I’d thought risk to claim that Hou’ violin is better than Parker’s piano.