Felix Mendelssohn found his Fifth Symphony unworthy of publication. Brahms lamented over what he called a “feeble adagio” in his violin concerto. Performances of both pieces in each composer’s lifetime were received with less than lukewarm approbation. Tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, Yale Symphony Orchestra takes on both — along with a new piece, “Symphony Fantasy” by Eric Nathan ’06. Their performance of the Mendelssohn will warrant a better reception from the audience.
Titled the “Reformations Symphony,” Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony was composed in 1829 as a tribute to the tercentenary of the Augsbury Confession, a central document to the Lutheran Church and Reformation. The disdain its creator had for it hasn’t stopped the Fifth Symphony from taking flight under Hahm’s baton. The pristine woodwind entrance opens the first movement with a quote from the Lutheran liturgy, Dresden Amen. The strings then attack the ensuing Allegro con Fuoco with well-executed swells in dynamics that emanate the turbulence appropriate for the almost militant and grandiose character of the movement. A reprieve from the fury comes with an expressively played cello-section melody. Some runs in the string passages require some fine-tuning, but the stray notes are easily compensated by the energy that they are played with.
For Melody Chan ’05, Brahms is an old friend; her performance last year of the Brahms violin sonatas in the Friends of Music Recital was absolutely stunning. Her musical interpretation of Brahms was flawless and indicative of utmost sensitivity and taste. A performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma on Sesame Street inspired Chan to take violin lessons at the age of four. Fourteen years later, Chan was already stealing the spotlight from Big Bird, claiming her own share of PBS time. Who she stole the spotlight from isn’t important once you hear who she was sharing the spotlight with: In January of 2002, Chan played the Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins alongside Itzhak Perlman, a world-renowned violinist, in a live national PBS broadcast from Lincoln Center. They will be playing the same program at a gala concert in March at Carnegie Hall.
Easily one of the favorite violin concertos in the annals of classical music history, it’s no easy task to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto. The classics of classical music demand perfection, and this piece, often called the “concerto versus the violin,” is far from easy to perfect. But Chan said, “There are so many moments[in the piece] that make me so happy that I am a violinist.”
Some say that it takes a sophisticated musician to be able to appreciate contemporary classical music. But with its Copland-esque harmonies and adventurous spirit, anyone can appreciate Nathan’s piece. It defies most contemporary composers’ gravitation toward atonality and minimalism.
When Hahm asked Nathan to write the piece last year, Hahm said “Make it fun and exciting.” And the piece is, indeed, fun and exciting. It makes for both an aesthetically and audibly enjoyable piece. There is a visually dramatic interplay of the lower strings “battling” the upper strings, both executing virtuostic runs.
Fans of Copland, Mahler or Stravinsky will find Nathan’s piece exciting just because it feels like a musical “find Waldo.” All ye musicians learned in Mahler out there might even catch the quote from Mahler Symphony No.1. The faster sections are also reminiscent of the “hoedown” section in Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The piece is brass-heavy, and the brass section rises to meet the challenge with brilliant fanfare.
This is a concert that shouldn’t be missed. Let the music speak for itself.