Wednesday, Sept 14, 2011:Commanding Performance

Baiba Skride plays a Stradivari from 1725

Commanding Performance

There have been thousands of good composers and violinists throughout history. But it’s only after artists find their true voice and take command of the material that their good music becomes great.

Such, perhaps, was the case with Antonín Dvořák and his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, Op 53. Its first version was composed in the summer of 1879, but its final version wasn’t published and performed publicly until four years later. Why the delay?

Dvořák was beginning to achieve an international reputation; his circle of friends included the composer Johannes Brahms and Brahms’ friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. But it seems that this Hungarian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher still may have overwhelmed Dvořák a bit, because music historians say that Dvořák intended that Joachim himself would perform the concerto; and Dvořák quickly made the extensive revisions which Joachim suggested. (But Joachim never did perform the Concerto publicly.)

By the time an advisor to Dvořák’s music publisher also got into the act with even more suggestions, Dvořák had had enough of all the advice and began to trust his own voice. This is apparent because he refused to allow any more tinkering with his ideas. The version we hear today is full of invention, strength, and beauty, and it ends with the typically optimistic hop-and-skip type of melody which could only come from the influence of Czech folk music and from the famous Czech himself.

Baiba Skride in performance

But what about its modern-day performance? If you attended the Dvořák’s Prague International Music Festival Sept 11, you were treated to the Concerto by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride. She has the face of a young child, and she won Belgium’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels at age 20, but don’t let that fool you. She also has definite command of the material.

This was evident from the opening moments of the piece with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Massimo Zanetti. The single voice of the violin easily held its own against the orchestra, and Mrs Skride wasn’t afraid to let the music move her — literally. She bent over, reached backwards, sometimes even stepped sideways as the music flowed from her violin.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Massimo Zanetti, conducting

Far from being overly dramatic or just for effect, the motion seemed to work with the violin to let the music out. At the conclusion of the piece, the young violinist tapped the bow against her blue satin dress in time to the final notes, and ended by flourishing the bow in the air above, much like throwing your hat into the air at graduation.

It was the perfect ending to celebrate the accomplishment of two masters, both of them sure of their voices, with command over their performance. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Dvořákova Praha

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