The Asheville Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Daniel Meyer and featuring distinguished violinist Soovin Kim in the Brahms Violin Concerto, was at peak performance in this stunning concert of beloved favorites. Other works on the program were Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. Seldom have I heard a concert that was this uniformly excellent and musically interesting, and one which connected to its audience in such a profound way.
Mr. Kim's extensive resume as a chamber player, soloist, recording artist, and pedagogue reflects the depth of his musical experience which informs his sensitive and sophisticated playing. He maintains a close relationship with the summer Marlboro Music Festival, is a member of the innovative piano quartet MIK, and is currently a professor of music at Stony Brook University and an International Visiting Scholar at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. He performs on the 1709 "ex-Kempner" Stradivarius on loan to him.
The Brahms was first on the program and was a fortuitous first choice, as I couldn't help thinking its superb performance probably inspired the high excellence of the others, too. Kim was at home wherever the music went, whether during the blisteringly demanding passagework, cadenzas, or the expansive lyrical melodic sections. His sense of musical line and color were so gratifying to hear, and ensemble with the orchestra was excellent throughout. Much has been written about the complexity of Brahms's orchestral writing in this concerto, leading conductor Joseph Hellmesberger to label the piece a concerto "not for, but against the violin." In this performance, though, there was no sense of contest, but rather a harmonious whole in which a dramatically charged and beautifully inflected conversation occurred among intelligent players. The audience was enraptured, so quiet and still that every note could be followed (and every creak and whine from the cooling system). A spontaneous standing ovation erupted after the first movement as well as after the third movement "Gypsy" homage to Joachim, its first soloist.
Mozart's string serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik continued the festive mood after intermission. Composed in 1787, the same year as Don Giovanni, the work has a beguiling mix of light-hearted and serious moods, with any development of its material done on a small scale. Meyer conducted an elegant and musically compelling work in which a few passages in the second movement Romanze and the Trio of the third movement Menuetto were charmingly assigned to string quartet/quintet alone.
The Strauss tone poem, completed in 1895 and premiered in Cologne that year, was a magnificent final selection. The work centers around the exploits of prankster Till Eulenspiegel, who, some maintain, was an actual person who lived in the 14th century. Strauss's vivid musical imagination takes us off on a series of Till's exploits, which results ultimately in a trial and his hanging, after which he continues to plague his enemies, much as he did in life. The transparent, soloist treatment of the orchestra in this episodic piece is such that wicked licks pop up everywhere in the brass and winds, and occasionally the strings. Fortunately, the Asheville Symphony Orchestra has reached a level of professionalism where such a monster of a piece seems to pose very few problems. Kudos are richly deserved by the many principal players who did such outstanding solo work (especially principal horn Terry Roberts), and to Maestro Meyer for bringing out the best from the orchestra time and again.