Philharmonic, soloist Ehnes serve up a musical feast

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

Fantastic soloist, fantastic orchestra, fantastic music — in the words of Binghamton Philharmonic Maestro José-Luis Novo, “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Actually, it did last Sunday (Jan. 23). Guest soloist James Ehnes played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No., 3, K. 216, in G Major on one of the best violins ever crafted – a Stradivarius. (Ehnes plays the “Marsick” Stradivarius of 1715, on loan from the Fulton Collection.) While a quiet instrument, the violin possesses a color palette that puts a rainbow to shame.
Ehnes, hailed as the “new Jascha Heifetz,” played with elegance and without an ounce of affectation or apparent exertion. His sweet, superbly controlled tone made Mozart’s melody lines sing. Mozart is something of a specialty for Ehnes, who grew up in cultural non-Mecca of Manitoba. In January 2006, he celebrated the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth by recording Mozart’s complete works for solo violin and orchestra – all five violin concertos and three single-movement works — featuring an ensemble of musicians that Ehnes gathered from around the world and directed himself. Sunday afternoon, Philharmonic musicians were easily his equal, matching his superb performance note for note.
By the way, the Sunday performance was something of an experiment for the Philharmonic, and apparently a successful one. Despite the pro football games on television  and the frigid temperatures outside, the Anderson Center Osterhout Concert Theatre was filled. There have been some empty seats at the Saturday evening concerts earlier this season.
To open the program, the Philharmonic served a delicious hors d’oeuvre — Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” Overture — to whet the tastebuds for the more substantial works to come. Written when the composer was only 25, the light, energetic overture has been in the standard repertoire since its premiere in 1817.
The meat and potatoes portion of the concert came after intermission: Brahms’ Serenade No. 1, Op. 11 in D Major. Played with wit, precision and verve by every section of the orchestra, the work echoed the musical styles of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but foreshadowed the complex Brahms symphonies to come.
I couldn’t help but notice many new young faces in the orchestra, playing alongside long-time Philharmonic musicians we’ve come to know and love. I’m hoping this isn’t a deliberate strategy to change the make-up of the orchestra or a case of age-ism taking root. We’d be hard put to improve on the quality of those veterans.
Coming up
A piano recital by guest artist Jon Nakamatsu at 3 p.m. Feb. 27  in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. Call 723-3931 for tickets, or visit www.binghamtonphilharmonic.org.

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1 Response to "Philharmonic, soloist Ehnes serve up a musical feast"

  1. swilson31

    As the executive director of the Binghamton Philharmonic, I believe the last paragraph of Lee Shepherd’s otherwise very positive review of our most recent concert may leave her readers with a misperception. While she was correct in noting several new faces in the orchestra – we added 12 new members this season – certain other implications she alludes to are completely unfounded. The Binghamton Philharmonic is a professional orchestra, all of whose members belong to Local 380 of the American Federation of Musicians. Positions in the orchestra come open periodically for a wide variety of reasons. Musicians can be removed from the orchestra only for cause. In the past few years, two members died, two retired, several moved out of the area, etc. New members are admitted to the orchestra only through auditions, which are advertised nationally. As with most professional orchestras in this country, auditions are heard by the music director and a committee of musicians. Candidates perform behind a screen anonymously. Musicians are admitted to the Binghamton Philharmonic for one reason, and one reason only: the quality of their playing. As for noticing that many of the new members were “playing alongside long-time Philharmonic musicians,” Ms. Shepherd and her readers might be interested to know that, starting last season, the Binghamton Philharmonic adopted, on a trial basis, a system known as rotating or revolving seating, whereby string players sit in a different position for each concert throughout the season. Music director Jose-Luis Novo, himself a violinist, believes this seating system improves string ensemble sound, and the system was approved by a vote of the orchestra. We leave it to our audience to judge the results.