Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Tchaikovsky: Souvenirs de Florence, Op. 70
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – Clara-Jumi Kang, violin
As if getting back to reality with a full work week ahead of me after being a shamelessly self-indulgent lady of leisure in Amsterdam and Berlin for two glorious weeks were not brutal enough, I also had to contend with a dreadful combination of persistent jet lag and a nasty cold.
Consequently, the past week was pretty much a long blur that ended not one minute too soon.
But there was also a bright light looming ahead as the New York Classical Players were opening their new season of free high-quality concerts on Saturday night with two of the most rightfully popular works in classical music: Piotr Tchaikovsky's Romantic Souvenirs of Florence, in a new version specifically written for the NYCP, and Antonio Vivaldi's Baroque The Four Seasons, starring former child prodigy Clara-Jumi Kang, in the welcoming concert hall of the W83 cultural center, which happens to be located walking distance from my apartment.
So after taking all necessary precautions to keep the cough under control and, most importantly, out of earshot, I was finally able to enjoy being back in New York City by taking advantage of one of the perks that brought me to this maddening place in the first place: Timeless classics superbly played by highly talented musicians in an easily accessible location. And suddenly life was good again.
Written for a string sextet by Tchaikovsky in Russia after an extended stay in Italy, the original score of Souvenirs of Florence has been performed by larger string orchestras as is, an endeavor that unsurprisingly often lends imperfect results due to balance issues. To remedy this situation, teacher and composer Yoomi Paick came up with an updated version of it whose goal is to allow each musician to more or less equally contribute to the performance in their own way while still forming a harmonious whole together.
From what we heard on Saturday night, her laudable mission has been smashingly accomplished as the NYCP confidently delivered the beautifully textured, meticulously detailed, and intensely lyrical performance the piece deserves. Chances are Tchaikovsky would have whole-heartedly approved. The audience sure did.
As summer is now officially gone and fall has completely taken over, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons reminded us of nature’s unalterable rhythm, each of the various times of year being brilliantly highlighted with its own characteristics. To make them even more exciting, the NYCP was joined by German and South Korean violinist Clara-Jumi Kang, who so far has been spending most of her young life collecting top prizes at international competitions and dazzling audiences all over the world. Now it was our turn to experience her incredible skills for ourselves.
With all the right elements in place, it was no surprise that the inherently colorful seasons were particularly vibrant, opening with birds merrily chirping away at nature's rebirth in the spring. Summer is perhaps my favorite Season by Vivaldi, and it certainly was on Saturday when its mighty storm powerfully exploded in countless virtuosic fireworks. Fall glowed with bright shades and harvest celebrations, peasants' revelries and hunting rituals, before winter came around with a fierce wind, a cozy fire, freezing rain and unforgiving ice.
The composition being a structurally perfect and immediately attractive masterpiece, audiences have been warmly responding to it for four centuries by now, and their enthusiasm is not likely to abate anytime soon. Another case in point was this past weekend, when the technically flawless and irresistibly engaging performance by the NYCP and Kang turned out to be a big hit with virtually everybody in the hall.
For all its sparkles and joie de vivre, The Four Seasons is still a challenging work to perform, so we barely dared to hope for anything else. But our indefatigable soloist was obviously up for more and concluded the evening with a stupendous Largo from Sonata No. 3 by Bach. The season has started well.