Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Valentine’s Day came early for those who attended Saturday night’s Binghamton Philharmonic concert. Violinist Jennifer Koh’s passionate rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 14” was the essence of young romance.
Playing a prized Stradivarius violin and dressed in an electric-blue gown, the Korean-American brought a new palette of colors to the most often performed and recorded violin concerto by an American composer. The sweet and dreamy first two movements, punctuated by intermittent peaks of passion, propelled the concerto to its last movement — an athletic perpetual motion played as fast as humanly possible. No wonder the fiery Koh is praised for her technical wizardry.
According to the BPO’s gifted (youngish) conductor Jose-Luis Novo, the entire concert paid homage to youthful composers or short-lived composers in their youth, spotlighting the “freshness characteristic of people who are in the early stages of a highly creative life.”
The Osterhout Concert Theater at Binghamton University’s Anderson Center was packed, testimony to Novo’s innovative thematic programming. The philharmonic has never sounded better.The sound was balanced and acoustics in the hall are superb. It’s hard to believe these musicians can put together such polished and technically difficult programs in only four or five rehearsals, but they do, concert after concert!
The program opened with the overture to “Los Esclavos Felices” by the “Spanish Mozart,” Juan Chrisostomo Arriaga. He was a musical prodigy who died before his 20th birthday and penned this piece at the tender age of 14. Not much to say about this charming work, except that it sounded just like Mozart.
After intermission, the BPO played the overture to “Ascanio in Alba, K. 111,” commissioned from a 15-year-old Mozart to celebrate the forthcoming wedding in Milan of Archduke Ferdinand. The four-minute-long piece gave many hints of the genius that was yet to come. Mozart must have liked what he wrote in his youthful exuberance — he recycled it into a symphony in his later years.
The last work on the program was the “Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major” composed by Franz Schubert when he was 18 and first read by the orchestra of the Vienna seminary Schubert attended. Hats off to the strings, especially the violins, who played the exhausting million or so notes in the first movement without dropping a single one. They sounded like one violin – the true test of a fine string section in any orchestra. Hats off to the rest of the orchestra, too, for a performance of the Schubert that was full of cheer, energy and good humor.
FYI: If you missed Koh this time around, she returns on Feb. 28 for a BPO chamber music concert with pianist Shai Wosner. Call 723-3931 or visit binghamtonphilharmonic.org for ticket information.