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Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and Maxim Vengerov Bring Bartok and Brahms to Carnegie Hall

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Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Kent Nagano, Music Director & Conductor

Maxim Vengerov, Violin

Jean-Willy Kunz, Organ
(Kunz Web Page)

Press: Eric Latzky:

Carnegie Hall
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 18, 2017

Samy Moussa (b. 1984): A Globe Itself Infolding for Organ and Orchestra, Jean-Willy Kunz, Organ.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945): Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116, “Introduzione: Andante non troppo-Allegro vivace”, “Giuoco delle coppie: Allegretto scherzando”, “Elegia: Andante non troppo”, “Intermezzo interrotto: Allegretto”, “Finale: Presto”.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77, “Allegro non troppo”, “Adagio”, “Allegro giocoso: ma non troppo vivace”, Maxim Vengerov, Violin.

Tonight’s remarkable and enthralling concert by the Montreal Symphony, led by its masterful maestro, Kent Nagano, opened with Samy Moussa’s 2014 commissioned piece for symphony and organ. A Globe Itself Infolding for Organ and Orchestra brought out Jean-Willy Kunz on Carnegie Hall’s small electronic organ. Carnegie Hall does not have an expansive pipe organ, similar to the Pierre Béique Grand Organ on which this work premiered at Montreal’s Maison Symphonique, also with Mr. Kunz on the organ. Yet, this brief piece, with filmatic drama and nuanced, poetic (the title derives from William Blake’s poem, “Milton”) passages, was a stunning introduction to the sophistication and talent of the Montreal Symphony and its obvious chemistry with its Music Director and Conductor, Mr. Nagano. Mr. Moussa, Canadian born and raised, is a protégé of Pierre Boulez, and he has composed operas, as well, leading up to his award as Quebec’s 2015 “Composer of the Year”. Mr. Moussa was seated in the audience and dashed to the stage for a rousing, standing ovation, at the finale of his eleven minute composition. I would love to hear this piece performed with a symphonic pipe organ, sometime soon.

The Bartók Concerto for Orchestra was fascinating, in that each instrumental section or solo was featured in Concerto fashion, highlighted and prominent in its own phrases and passages. According to the Carnegie Program Notes, Bartók intended this work to be like a “concertante”, so every instrument is, at one point, alone or in unison, showcased against the full orchestra. Composed in five movements, the piece opens in whispering quietude, with the first movement ending in the “Allegro vivace’s” sizzling, resounding strings. A solo trombone, then an oboe, were each enchanting. The second movement “Giuoco delle coppie”, or “Game of Pairs”, literally pairs two of the same wind instruments for five different intervals of folklorically infused tunes. We heard duo bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes, and trumpets, plus a brass ensemble fusing the intervals.

The third movement “Elegia” was stunning, with dramatic violas and trembling violins. I seemed to hear piccolos, as well, like woodland birds. The fourth movement “Intermezzo”, opening in near silence and ending in crashing timpani and strings, was remarkably vibrant, showcasing not only individual musicians and their instruments, but also the combined professionalism of Maestro Nagano and the Montreal Symphony. Bucolic flutes and a vivacious tuba were also heard. An “interruption” of the Intermezzo was created by Bartók to mock Shostakovich’s favorite marching tune with its evocation in this movement. It was immediately familiar to the listener. The finale, with pizzicato cellos and racing violins, ended with sensational echoing refrains. This Bartók Concerto should be performed more often.

It appeared that tonight’s audience saved most of its enthusiasm, however, for Maxim Vengerov’s long-awaited return to Carnegie Hall, in Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, after an injury had sidelined him for years. Many of the violinist’s fans erupted in accolades at his first sighting, entering the stage with Maestro Nagano. From the moment Mr. Vengerov began his first solo, I imagined Isaac Stern smiling down from above onto Stern Hall. The “Allegro non troppo” opened in sweeping, cinematic sensuousness, followed by repetitive staccato flashes. Mr. Vengerov’s solos were astoundingly nuanced and encompassed extreme opposites in volume and range, with diminished to dynamic tones and tempi. He often paused for effect, and, at times, held his bow on the strings of his ex-Kreutzer 1727 Stradivari for lengthy, breathless effect. The perfectly pitched single or chordal violin solos were compelling and charged.

The Montreal Symphony, as well, mastered its presentation of the central “Adagio” and “Allegro giocoso: ma non troppo vivace” second and third movements with impressive attention to the rhythmic musicality of this Concerto. I have never experienced this Concerto onstage with such brilliantly defined details, giving each moment such reverence and rapture. Also spotlighted, in the “Adagio”, was a gorgeous oboe solo, and, in the finale, Hungarian gypsy violins. Mr. Vengerov, who is a UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador, exuded poise and presence throughout the evening, absorbing his fans’ adulation.

Mr. Nagano walked through the orchestra, following the Concerto’s standing ovation, and shook hands and celebrated soloists and sections of the Montreal Symphony. But, the audience craved an encore, and we were treated to Mr. Vengerov and the orchestra’s performance of the balletic “Méditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs. And, what an intoxicating treat this was. Kudos to Maxim Vengerov, and kudos to Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

Kent Nagano, at Carnegie Hall, Conducts the
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Courtesy of Antoine Saito

Kent Nagano, Music Director and Conductor,
at Carnegie Hall, Conducting the
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Courtesy of Antoine Saito

Maxim Vengerov, Violinist,
Performing at Carnegie Hall, with the
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Courtesy of Antoine Saito

Kent Nagano, Maxim Vengerov,
and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
at a Standing Ovation at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Antoine Saito

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at