Los Angeles Music Preview: DUDAMEL & BATIASHVILI (Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto & Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with the LA Phil)

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by Tony Frankel on January 22, 2017

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


It’s astounding to have heard countless performances of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto–both live and in recordings–and still be amazed that a newer interpretation can be so exciting, inventive, and breathtaking. Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili recently took me aback with her release on Deutsche Grammophon with the Staatskapelle Berlin (Berlin State Opera Orchestra) led by Daniel Barenboim. The fierce soloist is powerful in the allegro moderato, glowing and earnest in the canzonetta, and sparkling in the brisk finale. It’s a flawless presentation, engrossing and stirring. And you will get to witness this fierce violinist perform the timeless, ever-popular work with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic from February 2-5, 2017 at Disney Hall.

An article on violin.com claims that despite thirty-something years of world-renowned violin playing, and despite growing up in the Soviet Union, Lisa Batiashvili only just started learning the piece a few years ago.

Equally inconceivable is that Tchaikovsky’s ultra-Romantic Violin Concerto—ebullient and heartfelt with unforgettable melody, drama, tenderness, and flashy brilliance—was not well-received at first. Even the work’s dedicatee, Leopold Auer, would not premiere it, citing awkward solos that are too difficult to be worth the trouble. Tchaikovsky had to wait almost four years after its completion in 1878 to premiere it, but that 1881 performance with the Vienna Philharmonic received scathing reviews. Vienna’s most influential critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote, “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto brings to us for the first time the horrid idea that there may be music that stinks in the ear.”

Iosif Kotek with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1877Yet it wasn’t long before the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 became one of the most cherished violin works in the repertoire. “It’s easy to see why,” wrote violinist Augustin Hadelich, who’s been performing the piece since he was 12 years old. “It’s filled with beautiful, romantic melodies, it’s exciting and virtuosic, and its emotions are deeply felt and intense.”

Since Tchaikovsky was not a violinist, he sought the advice of Josif Kotek on the completion of the solo part, considered one of the most technically difficult works for the violin. “It’s often been speculated that Tchaikovsky had a romantic affair with Kotek,” continues Hadelich. “The music seems to reflect that—it sounds like it was written by a man who is happily and passionately in love. I think his concerto is a happy work, and although there are some bittersweet, aching moments (for example in the slow movement, Canzonetta), it never takes a dark or tragic turn.” Tchaikovsky wanted to dedicate the concerto to Kotek, but felt constrained by the gossip this would undoubtedly cause about the true nature of his relationship with the younger man.

Also on the program is Alfred Schnittke’s (K)ein Sommernachtstraum. This fun 10-minute piece was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival in 1985 to contribute a piece to a program based on a Shakespearean theme. “Kein” means “not” in German, so the translation is (Not) a Summer Night’s Dream. Contemporary composers have a bad reputation among audiences for thorny and arcane music, but the music of Schnittke, who died in 1998, often is entirely accessible.

The orchestra concludes the program with selections from Prokofiev’s 1935 score for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Lisa Batiashvili, violin
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Thursday, February 2, at 8 PM
Friday, February 3, at 8 PM
Saturday, February 4, at 8 PM
Sunday, February 5, at 2 PM
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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