Edo de Waart conducts The Chicago Symphony Orchestra review- Violinist Leila Josefowicz stuns in Stravinsky

Maestro Edo de Waart; photo by Jesse Willems

On Thursday, December 19th, 2019, in a concert to be repeated December 20th, 21st, and 22nd, Dutch conductor Edo de Waart, principal guest conductor of the San Diego Symphony, returned to Symphony Center, 220 S. Michgan, to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and stellar American violinist Leila Josefowicz in a well-curated concert of works by John Adams, Stravinsky and Dvořák.

 Principal Trombone Jay Friedman played principal on all four works. Principal wind and brass players for Thursday night’s program are listed after a description of each piece. 

  • John Adams The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra), 1985

The Chairman Dances is a 12-minute minimalist/romanticist romp based upon a recurrent foxtrot theme as well as a second major theme introduced early on by the bassoons. First recorded in 1986 by the San Francisco Symphony under Maestro de Waart on Nonesuch, the piece is a thematic precursor to Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China.

Over 30 years later, the CSO, under the taut, deliberate leadership of de Waart, projected a vision of a modern, sexy dance being carried out with “swooning romanticism”. With saucy exuberance, lushly textured melody coalesced in numerous disparate threads of music were brought together in a fine and densely layered piece.

At times, oboes mix with harp in an unusual suspension of sound. Piano and rich percussive sounds including vibraphone add off-beat tones. Muted brass underneath the percussion create new textures. Repeated rhythms join with high strings and upper woodwinds to cause a dense excitement. A violin melody takes the tempo from very rapid to more laid-back.  Then the harp sounds become mystical, the textures interweave, and ultimately the whole CSO seem to be playing a wealth of varying busy rhythms, which fade slowly away until all we hear are percussive knocking and shaking, before they too fade into quiet. Throughout, a very moving fantastic and fantasy-laden rich piece, beautifully conjured.

Piccolo/Flute Jennifer Gunn
Assistant Principal Clarinet John Bruce Yeh
Assistant Principal Oboe Michael Henoch
Assistant Principal Bassoon William Buchman
Principal Horn David Cooper
Assistant Principal Trumpet Mark Ridenour

Leila Josefowicz, violin; photo by Chris Lee
  • Igor Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D, 1931

The ravishingly composed and virtuoso performer Leila Josefowicz delivered a thoroughly sophisticated, intensely urbane, and dynamic, even acerbic reading of this neoclassical masterpiece. Known in the lexicon as “fiercely” difficult, the concerto opens with large, open, strident- even discordant- chords, fairly tormenting the staccato possibilities of the violin. The soloist was brilliant and gutsy in her bowing and aplomb, producing inner movements that were singing and singularly mysterious and melodic. Altogether a robust, luminous, spiky performance, full of strength and beauty, with crisp support from the CSO. De Waart kissed Josefowicz’ hand afterwards; an encore would’ve been superfluous.

Piccolo/Flute Jennifer Gunn
Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson
Assistant Principal Oboe Michael Henoch
Assistant Principal Bassoon William Buchman
Associate Principal Horn Daniel Gingrich
Assistant Principal Trumpet Mark Ridenour

  • Antonin Dvořák Carnival Overture, Op. 92, 1891

Maestro and Orchestra performed an expansive rendition of this high-spirited piece that managed to convey all of the festivities of a small country circus celebration. In the mind’s eye (or ear) the visitor to the scene can conjure up the sounds of a band tuning, the cries of the populace, the exclamations of delighted children. The CSO gave forth a fully expressed wealth of rousing sonorities. The basic sonata form was developed with a hauntingly lovely English horn and flute episode before the party atmosphere returned and ascended into a glorious final coda.

Second Flute Emma Gerstein
Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson 
Principal Oboe William Welter
Assistant Principal Bassoon William Buchman
Principal Horn David Cooper
Principal Trumpet Esteban Batallán

  • Antonin Dvořák Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, 1889

This linear yet freely flowing composition was led and performed with a wonderful sense of near improvisation by de Waart and the CSO, as they interpreted the innovative orchestration, allowing solo and chamber-like textures to emerge from within the full forces of the Orchestra. 

Throughout the melodic portions, one could hear distinct influences derived from Bohemian folk music; indeed, the piece opens with the different themes moving toward and with each other in a distinctly “naturalistic” way. After a lush pastoral Adagio, stirring and languidly sonorous clarinets mingled with spirited flutes, before a sublime waltz retired into a brisk coda; wonderful trumpets call forth the finale.

Second Flute Emma Gerstein
Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson 
Principal Oboe William Welter
Assistant Principal Bassoon William Buchman
Principal Horn David Cooper
Principal Trumpet Esteban Batallán

Conductor Edo de Waart; photo courtesy of Edo de Waart

For information and tickets to all the fine programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org

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