Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Take heart, blue grass fiddlers: You CAN go from a square dance in the barn to Carnegie Hall. Tessa Lark, featured violin soloist at the Binghamton Philharmonic’s Saturday night concert (Sept. 9), proves it.
Rare for a classical concert artist, the native Kentuckian calls herself a “crossover musician,” who enjoys every kind of music from classical to jazz to folk. She’s an alumna of Mark O’Connor’s fiddle camp, but she also played classical music at age 16 in Carnegie Hall’s “Distinctive Debuts” program.
Lark demonstrated both sides of the coin at the BPO concert titled “Dvorak 8,” first with a sparkling performance of the Tchaikovsky “Violin Concerto, Op. 35, in D Major,” then getting down and dirty with BPO cellist Christopher White in an encore, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s “Minor Swing.”
The Tchaikovsky concerto has a checkered past. Originally rejected by violinists as too damned hard to play, savaged by critics as “music … which stinks for the ear” where “the violin was not played but beaten black and blue,” the work soon became one of the most beloved in the repertoire. It’s chock-full of gorgeous melodies, although with devilishly difficult double-stop runs and harmonics, and it has a show-stopping cadenza (in the first movement instead of the traditional third movement) that’s over the top. In fact, the whole work is over the top, passionate and extravagant.
Recipient of a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and winner the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Concerto, Lark played with guts, physicality and great intensity.
Like the work itself, Lark wears her heart on her sleeve, or rather her face, which shows a palette of emotions. Her entire body, including her ponytail, gets into the act, as she dances through a piece. With tornado-like frenzy, she’s up and down and all over the fingerboard. Her generous and utterly skilled performance Saturday brought the audience to its feet after the first movement.
I must say, the Binghamton Philharmonic has never sounded better. In its interpretation of Samuel Barber’s “Essay, No. 1,” the sonorous celli and bass gave way to intensities of musical emotion that displayed the virtuosic ability of every section of the orchestra.
The keynote work on the program, a flawless performance of Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8, Op. 88, in G Major,” was a sheer joy to hear. As a showcase for Bohemian melodies within a Germanic art form, the symphony has it all: trumpet fanfares, a lyrical waltz, atmospheric wafts of springtime, spirited folk tunes and folk-dance melodies, a race to the exhilarating finish. In his curtain call, conductor Matthew Kraemer acknowledged the fine performance of each section of the orchestra, as the audience jumped up for another standing ovation.
Kraemer is one of four finalists for the permanent conductorship of the BPO, and this concert served as his audition. On the podium, he seemed to tower over the orchestra. He conducted with great clarity and expressiveness and gave oral program notes to the audience with authority and wit. He’s definitely a contender.
On a critical note, I was dismayed to see so many empty seats at The Forum in Binghamton. It would be great to see a packed house as a show of pride in a community treasure, the Binghamton Philharmonic.
Next in the BPO 2017-18 season: “Sibelius 7” on Sept. 23, featuring works of Bacon, Copland and Sibelius and soloists Paul Won Jin Cho, clarinet; John Lathwell, English horn, and Anthony Limoncelli, trumpet. Conductor finalist Chris Younghoon Kim will be on the podium. For tickets, visit binghamtonphilharmonic.org.